The plants are sad.
Doyoung frowns, rubbing one of the drooping leafs of the marigold on his porch. “Work with me here,” he mumbles, voice low so that Taeyong won’t laugh at him. He always finds it funny when Doyoung speaks to the plants. “Come on, I’ve checked your soil, your moisture levels, your temperature. What’s wrong?”
Unsurprisingly, the marigold doesn’t tell him why it’s upset. They’re sulky flowers that like to get attention, and even in the soft morning light with the pretty backdrop of fields and woodland, they still don’t cheer up.
Doyoung sighs and stands from his crouch, putting his hands on his hips as he continues to stare at the flowers. “You can stay on the porch until lunch to see if the sun will change your attitude. Maybe it’ll rain and you’ll realise that by not communicating you’re just as in the wrong as I am.”
Taeyong laughs from just inside the door. “I’ve got you a mug of tea, Doyoung, for when you’re done being the photosynthesis-therapist again.”
“Very funny,” he grumbles, wandering back into the redbrick house. His tea, in his old, chipped but lovingly painted (by one of his old client’s bratty toddler) waits on one of Taeyong’s book piles on the coffee table. “Thanks for the tea. Did you remember the ginger root?”
“Yep,” Taeyong replies, taking a sip of his own tea. “I added some of the weird brown stuff to mine because it smelt so good.”
Doyoung pauses. “The one in the jar next to the honey?”
“That’s witch hazel, Taeyong. It’s poisonous to ingest.”
Taeyong’s tea slowly dribbles back into his mug from his mouth. “Why is it next to the honey?”
“The other day I made a facial scrub for that girl down the road who’s struggling with cystic acne. It won’t cure it, but honey, witch hazel and oat milk will definitely help with the discomfort of the inflammation.” He pats Taeyong on the shoulder as he wanders past to move the edible ingredients a safe distance from the toxic. “I’ll stick a list of things you can eat to the fridge, okay? Please don’t poison yourself out of curiosity.”
“Stop putting these things in the kitchen!”
“We’re going to play it like that? Stop bringing your patients into the house when they tread their shit into the tiles on the floor.”
“I can’t leave them outside, Doyoung, their owners bring them here to heal and they’re not gonna get better in the cold outside!”
Doyoung peers around the doorway to glare at Taeyong’s pleading look. “That donkey would have been perfectly fine outdoors, Taeyong. In fact, I think it would have been considerably more comfortable in a stable than in my living room, chewing my rug.”
“Your plants in the bathroom keep hiding my toothbrush in their vines!”
“Don’t act like plants are any comparison for animals!”
It’s an argument they’ve had before, more times than Doyoung could count on both hands. Taeyong seems to think that speaking to animals means he has to rear them as his children, and that somehow Doyoung’s connection to plants is just as troublesome. Yeah, okay. Like picking up dead petals off the pink chrysanthemum and listening when the aloe gets grumpy in bad weather is as annoying as donkey shit on the floor or a hormonal cat dragging its balls across Doyoung’s sleeping face.
Taeyong’s expression flashes with guilt, and Doyoung knows he’s caught on to what he was thinking.
“Doyoung, the cat was an exception and you know it. Mr Pigglesworth was rightfully angry at his given name and the fact that his owners refused to have him neutered despite the living situation with the other male cat. He was bound to act up.”
“He rubbed his furry balls across my forehead.”
“He rubbed them across mine too?” Taeyong offers.
Doyoung just blows out a breath and takes another sip of his tea. “You’re lucky I love you.”
“I love you too, my sour-patch botanist.”
“You’re pushing it.”
“Oh would you look at the time I’m already late for an appointment at Hyukjae’s farm. Gotta go!”
Doyoung smiles despite himself. “Be safe, work hard.”
“Try telling the marigolds they look pretty, you’ve been neglecting their vanity!” Taeyong calls as he heads out the door, flashing Doyoung with one last, lingering smile.
It was meant as a joke, something to tease Doyoung, but he considers it seriously. The downside of feeling the emotions of plants is that, while you understand the drooping, you can’t just... get a cause out of them by asking their feelings. Taeyong has it slightly easier, because if an animal is in pain they at least give an indication as to where the hurt is, like licking the wound or something. He can tell an animal’s feelings and then solve the problems, whereas Doyoung is usually left making somewhat educated guesses.
He heads back onto the porch and crouches down beside the potted marigold. “Is it your vanity?” he asks quietly. “You know I think you’re beautiful.”
They don’t so much as twitch a petal.
Doyoung groans and stands again, heading back indoors to water the other, less grumpy plants. “What kind of nature witch can’t so much as make his marigold happy,” he mutters as he fills the watering can.
But then, when he heads into the conservatory he sees that his spider-plants are the same. They all look healthy, but everything is drooping towards the floor, like their heads are bowed due to the weight of grief.
He runs into the back garden, barefoot, and jogs along until grass becomes dry dirt, pushing past bushes until he’s in the middle of the woodland.
Around him, the plants bow as he watches.
“What,” he breathes softly. “What the hell?”
He sprints back to the house and calls Taeil with trembling hands.
“My plants are grieving,” he says desperately. “All of them, every single plant I go near turns away.”
“Jesus, that sounds bad,” Taeil says. “Do you have any ideas?”
“None,” Doyoung says. “Can I – can I come over?”
“Of course you can,” Taeil says. His next sentence is cautious. “But Doyoung... you know my powers aren’t omnipotent, right? It’s hard enough figuring people out, never mind plants. I might not be able to tell you what’s wrong.”
“I have to try,” he says. He presses his lips together, more worried than he wants to admit. Since he was a child, grass would grow towards him, tickling his hands and feet as he played in the fields beyond his grandmother’s house. He’d never had a flower turn away from him.
“Then come over whenever,” Taeil says.
Doyoung toes into his trainers and heads out, leaving the marigolds on the porch to grow closer and closer towards the ground.
Taeil lives in town, more content amongst the bustle of human contact than Doyoung or Taeyong could ever be. The drive is stressful, and Doyoung watches with painful intent every time he passes a tree or bush, watching to see any sign of unhappiness in the greenery.
He parks up terribly, uncaring that he’s blocked Johnny’s car on the driveway, then hurries inside.
Johnny is sat in Taeil’s living room, eyes big. His energy hits Doyoung in waves, usually calming, happy, a source of joy, but it twists up Doyoung’s stomach until he’s doubled over and breathing through clenched teeth.
“Johnny, cut it back,” he manages, “Hurts, really hurts.”
The energy disperses immediately as Johnny runs over. “Fuck, Doyoung, something must be really wrong with you, what the hell?”
“I don’t wanna cause any unnecessary trouble,” he says as Johnny leads him to the sofa with a firm hand and steady presence. “Just wanna... wanna know why my plants are sad.”
“You stink of disturbance,” Johnny tells him, putting the back of his hand against Doyoung’s forehead. “You feel wrong. Something is going on.”
Taeil walks in with one of his tomes open, dust particles floating in the air. His brows are furrowed in concentration as he reads through the old pages, glasses slipping down the bridge of his nose. “I can’t see anything about plants grieving. They die when they’re stressed, but you know that, Doyoung. They’re very delicate. Most upset would just... kill them. You’re sure they’re not dying?”
“I know it,” he stresses. “They’re perfectly healthy in all other aspects, but they grow towards the ground when I near them. Even the plants in the woodland turned away from me.”
Taeil bites his bottom lip. “The moon is waning... all I can think of is that the plants feel something that we don’t.”
“Something wrong with me or the moon?”
“Who knows,” Taeil says. “Maybe you should stay here tonight, or with Johnny. I don’t like the idea of you staying out of the city all alone.”
“I’m with Taeyong,” Doyoung objects, just as his phone rings. He picks it up. “Hello?”
“Hey Doyoung, it’s Taeyong. I’m with Hyukjae now and it looks like this calf is gonna be born at some point tonight, and there’s a considerable chance of complications due to the position in the womb. I’ve done what I can, but I think I’m going to have to spend the evening here just to make sure everything goes as best as it can. That cool with you?”
He ignores Taeil’s smug look. “That’s fine. Best of luck.”
“Thank you, I’ll keep you updated.”
Doyoung hangs up and glares at Taeil. “If you knew he was going to be out why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”
Taeil scowls, throwing the tome onto the couch with a huff. “Having a vision of Taeyong holding a huge calf is very different to seeing why your plants are grieving. Besides, you know I can’t control what I see.”
“I know. Sorry.” He leans back and closes his eyes, letting out a drawn out breath. “This has been an unusually stressful morning.” He opens one eye to peer at Johnny. “Shouldn’t you be at work?”
“No one wants to buy shots at ten o’clock on a Wednesday morning, Doyoung,” Johnny chides gently. “We open at noon today. Even with my persuasive powers I’d struggle to get any martinis sold this early in the day.”
His eye closes again as Johnny’s hand settles in his hair and begins stroking. “Fair enough.”
Taeil sits down on his other side with a sigh. “Will you stay tonight?”
He swallows. “You know I can’t. If my plants are troubled, they need me at home. Besides, I have clients coming early in the morning tomorrow.”
“Then will you let me stay over in Taeyong’s bed?”
“Don’t you have work tonight? I thought the moon meant you had to have a party or something.”
“You could come to the party.”
“My plants, Taeil.”
“One of the other witches might know what’s going on!”
Doyoung groans. It isn’t that he’s antisocial (he is) or that he finds the other witches in town annoying (he does) because they keep trying to set him up on dates (very frequently) but he hates parties on the best of his days, never mind the bad ones. “Just come over when your party finishes if that will make you feel better.”
“Okay, if that’s all you’ll let me do. I’ll ask around and see if anyone has any ideas.”
“Me too,” Johnny supplies. “If it wasn’t my sister’s birthday you know I’d stick to you like glue, Doyoung, but she might have some good ideas anyway. You know she’s always had an affinity for roses despite her powers centring more on emotions.”
“Thanks guys,” he says quietly.
On his tenth birthday, his mother had led him into their tiny garden in the city and shown him the sunflowers she’d planted for him. They’d bent towards him as he approached, nudging his nose with their bright petals.
On his twenty-first birthday, tears drying on his cheeks as he’d caught his girlfriend sexting another guy while they were out for a meal, he’d sat in the middle of a cabbage patch and listened to the soothing songs of the vegetables and their earthy comfort.
On his grandmother’s gravestone, daisies flourished, twining over the land like her soul was reaching forward to embrace him in the form of hundreds of pretty white flowers.
They’d never turned from him before.
In fact, they’d been his one constant comfort.
Johnny leaves first to open up his bar, but Doyoung leaves shortly afterwards, too uncomfortable in the town to stay for longer. He misses the fresh air and the silence, despite Taeil’s soothing presence.
Taeil kisses his cheek at the door. “Ring me if anything happens, okay?” His eyes are guarded.
“I feel like you know more than you’re letting on,” Doyoung says.
“The sky is darkening,” Taeil murmurs, looking at the approaching clouds. “There’s a shift somewhere, between the worlds that mirror this one. I don’t know what’s going on, but I think we’ll know soon.” His expression solidifies into determination. “Fuck the party, I’m coming with you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Doyoung says, patting his cheek. “Have a good time hosting your party and I’ll see you tonight.”
“Doyoung...” Taeil trails off, unsure. He bites his lip again.
“Seriously, don’t worry,” Doyoung says, walking backwards towards his car. “You know I sleep with a baseball bat anyway, just in case. Stop fretting, old man, and I’ll see you later.”
“Text me when you get home. Lock your doors. Make sure you stay inside.”
Doyoung salutes. “You know me; safety first, second, and third.”
Taeil closes the door softly, eyes still troubled.
Doyoung tries not to think about it as he drives back home, following the direction of the dark clouds and the writhing trees.
He locks himself in the house after he’s brought the unwilling marigolds inside, then sits in his armchair with the baseball bat close by his legs, laptop on his knee as he searches on google to see what comes up in relation to waning moon.
Not much, other than weird old folk tales from centuries ago that modern historians have dedicated their careers to debunking. It’s a useless couple of hours, but entertaining. Some of the articles he reads are incredibly heated on the topic of fairies, which is funny.
‘Don’t be a virgin; be vigilant!’ one title reads. ‘A feminist reading on folk tales from medieval Scotland.’
The more he reads the more he realises that the gist of most folk tales is that virgins are always the victims of fairies, who are apparently much meaner than Disney movies would have people think.
It doesn’t make Doyoung’s plants happy, but it amuses him until the early evening, when the noise from his stomach reminds him to eat.
Redbean soup is just starting to simmer when the first drops of rain begin to hit the windows of the house, and Doyoung looks up, surprised to see how dark it is.
It’s kind of... cheesy.
If someone tries to kill him on the night of a special waning moon while it rains outside and his plants are sad, then Doyoung figures he’s just destined to die. If all the stars align that perfectly then who is he to deny fate his death? He’s twenty five; he’s lived a fairly short but good life, surrounded by people he loves.
“What do you think?” he asks the succulent on the kitchen windowsill. “Will I die tonight?”
It doesn’t reply.
He takes his soup to the dining table and eats with his marigold sat on the chair opposite.
“Come on,” he says between spoonfuls. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
“Are you malnourished? Have I been missing something? Did I take too many petals last time I pruned you?”
One of the flowers falls to the table and withers.
Doyoung puts his spoon down, frustrated. “I mean it, stop sulking!”
All he feels from the plant is the ringing sadness, like a distant cry on the wind. Another flower falls.
He finishes his soup in silence, good humour once more gone. It’s the first time in years he’s felt so clueless, so uncertain of what he’s meant to do. The plants have always been his allies, cheering him up and helping him to take care of others. How is he meant to soothe the arthritis-ridden joints of Mrs Kim tomorrow morning if none of his plants are willing to infuse the salve he needs to make? His medicine is nothing but useless liquid unless the plants are content to help healing.
Taeil texts and asks for an update, and Doyoung confirms that he’s still alive and well, baseball bat within his reach at all times other than bathroom breaks.
At ten o’clock he checks the locks on the doors and windows, reassuring himself that the house is as secure as possible. Outside the rain is a sheet of grey against a backdrop of black, so forceful that it’s almost deafening against the old roof of the house and the plastic of the conservatory.
Weirdly, it’s soothing.
Doyoung has always enjoyed the sound of rainfall, and while he prefers it slightly less violent, it still brings him a semblance of peace to know that tomorrow when the water subsides, everything growing outside will be fresh and revitalised and ready to flourish further.
Bored of his paranoia and lulled by the rain, he flicks through television channels and drifts between naps, waiting for the text from Taeil that will signal him setting off. He’s promised to bring snacks, which is worth waiting up for, but it doesn’t stop Doyoung from using the sofa as a makeshift sleep station while he watches reruns of Say Yes to the Dress.
He dreams of his eighteenth birthday.
His grandma walks him through the fields near her house, retracing the path they would take every year on his birthday, only this year she has a cane for the first time. She’s smaller, thinner. She’s beginning to look her age.
“My youngest grandson,” she says fondly, watching as cherry blossoms deliberately fall from the trees just so that they can land on his skin. “I knew ever since you were born that you’d have my powers. Your parents are strong, but who wants to have an affinity for people? Nature is a much sweeter gift.”
He doesn’t have the heart to tell her about the years of social anxiety and bullying he’s suffered, wishing he understood people better, wishing that like his brother he could smile and the whole world would melt. “I’m glad we share this gift,” he murmurs instead, stroking the perfumed petal of one of the blossoms. “I’m glad I get to share this with you.”
“Me too,” she says, patting his hand. “But one day I won’t be here to share it with you. That day is closer than either of us wishes it to be, but sadly, like the seasons changing and the leaves falling, it’s unavoidable.”
“You wanna talk about death on my birthday?” he complains, just to see her toothy grin.
“Did I raise a squirmer or are you going to deal with a serious conversation like the adult Doyoung I know and love?”
“Yes Ma’am,” he says, as she cackles.
“Good boy.” He walks forward to move some branches out of her way, needlessly, as they move to let her pass of their own volition. Her smile fades as they enter the green woodland. “Do you remember what I told you the last time we talked about death?”
“Death is a doorway, not a wall,” Doyoung recites as he trips over a tree root.
“That’s right,” she replies. “And a wall is not always a wall, sometimes it is a mirror.”
“You’ve lost me,” Doyoung says, steady on his feet again, enjoying the sight of the sunlight filtering through the canopy of the leaves above.
His grandmother stops too, turning back to gaze at him lovingly. “I won’t be here much longer, Doyoung, to share your gift and return your love.” She walks to him and frames his face with her gentle hands. “But you won’t be alone. I swear it with everything in me, you won’t be alone.”
He wakes up with a jolt, disorientated.
The air smells too sweet, and when he groans and sits up from the sofa, he sees the marigold has rotted away to nothing more than soft, brown decay, polluting the air with the smell of death.
“No,” he breathes, climbing off the sofa to reach the dead plant. The marigold was demanding, but so good. It had ample vanity, but it was one of his favourites. It had been his companion for years.
“I’m sorry, but they never survive the journey. It will be waiting for you if you return home, if that thought brings you any comfort.”
He looks towards the voice.
Entirely black eyes stare back, in a face too solemn, too perfect to be... human.
“What the fuck,” Doyoung whispers.
“I thought you might say that.”
He scrambles up; reaching for the baseball bat, but it’s kicked away before he can reach it.
“Please don’t do that.”
“Get the fuck out of my house!”
The man – creature – something, cocks its head, pondering. “But this isn’t your house.”
“Fuck,” Doyoung says, despair in his throat as he bolts for the door, which is unlocked – not how he left it – and then he’s outside, and around him the world has fallen down.
Nothing is there.
Not his car, his vegetable patch, the driveway or the street beyond. No fields. No sunshine.
There are trees towering above the roof, clouding the skyline with gnarled limbs. They feel wrong. Bad. They feel like evil, they feel like the eyes behind him, watching him.
He looks up as he staggers off the porch and sees that the sky is black, an unholy, opaque sheet of nothing. It’s like a veil over the world, a shroud of darkness too heavy to lift.
“Fuck,” he whispers.
“Don’t run,” the voice behind him warns.
Doyoung turns to the creature, and he knows he must look wild, terrified, horrified, because he is. He feels like he’s woken from a dream only to find out he died.
The creature is stood there, on the porch, gazing at him intently. It smiles faintly, and lifts one big hand to stroke the backs of its fingers across Doyoung’s cheek, a mockery of human affection. The skin is cold and dry, like porcelain. Or bone.
“I’ve been waiting for you for a long time.”
He stumbles into the trees and ignores the pain in his bare feet, running as fast as his legs will allow, as far as he can go, desperate for some kind of light, a friendly, familiar face, a knife – desperate for something. Anything.
It seems that the more he wishes for something, the more his lungs burn and his thighs cramp and his feet bleed onto the roots and stones beneath his feet, the more the forest takes. The more he longs, the darker the world around him becomes, until the trees begin to hunch, pressing closer.
He cries out when a branch snags the skin of his cheek, and another cuts deep into his forehead as he falls over a stump to his knees, panting through his teeth as he climbs back to his feet and continues forward another few steps until a branch cuts deep into the skin on his forearm and makes him yell from a combination of terror, pain, and sheer frustration. The plants here are vicious and cruel, and they want to hurt him. They want him to suffer.
“I told you not to run,” the voice says, as emotionless as before. “The forest doesn’t like strangers.”
“If you don’t leave me alone right now I swear to god-“
The creature steps from behind a tree, eying Doyoung. It looks something closer to human now, the obsidian of the eyes subdued, the skin less... glowy.
“Are you frightened?”
“Of course I’m frightened!”
The eyes lower to the ground in a strangely contrite manner. “I didn’t mean to make you afraid.”
“Nice going,” Doyoung spits, scathing, almost as furious as he is terrified. “Wherever we are, I don’t care, just take me home!”
“I can’t. It took everything I have to bring you here in the first place. Won’t you come inside and listen to me? Please?”
“You haven’t given me a choice.” Doyoung wipes the back of his hand across his cheek and smears blood; the coppery smell tangy in the damp forest air. Exhaustion and fear nag at the edges of his subconscious, but he pushes them aside, unwilling to let any stranger see him crumble. “Lead the way.”
The head cocks again, eyes dark and wide. “Just turn around.”
Instead of forest, there’s mist.
A field with damp grass, endless, merging into the fog, just as lonely as the forest, with not an animal in sight, not a happy creature to hear, nor the singing of plants to listen to. There is nothing but the cold air and the fog that all too gently rolls against his wounds.
“Walk forward. You’ll see it soon.”
He takes one hesitant step, but the grass doesn’t hurt his feet like the gritty earth of the forest did, so he takes another, and another, until the moisture on the blades dampen the bottom of his jeans and when he turns back to look over his shoulder, all he can see is fog, as if the forest had never been. Just the fog, the grass, and the inhuman human.
“Keep going, we’re almost there.”
Slowly, through the fog, the outline of a house appears.
It’s small, made from heavy, grey stones, with small wooden windows and a door that looks older than Doyoung’s family tree. Outside is a rotting old fence, with a lone gate swinging slightly on rusty hinges. It looks like a scene from a shitty old thriller novel he would find on his mother’s bookshelf, but the air is on his face, the grass between his toes, the splintered wood at his fingertips as he pushes the gate open and walks up the path, and then the door is beneath his palm as he pushes his way through and into the house.
Inside, it looks disconcertingly normal.
There’s a stove against the far wall, some wooden cabinets, a sink amongst them. The floor is tiled, right across the length of the house to the sofa and chairs at the other end, nestled amongst the huge stone fireplace.
“The door to the back leads to the bedroom and the bathroom. The bathroom is on the left, and I ask that you don’t go into the bedroom.”
Doyoung nods, and then is angry at himself for doing so. “What, you value your own privacy that much, but don’t give a shit about the privacy of the guy you’ve kidnapped?”
The door closes softly, but Doyoung is too scared to turn around and look at those dead eyes again, so instead he walks over to the sofa and takes a seat with a sigh, only noticing once he’s off his feet that he’s left a trail of watery blood across the floor.
“Of course I value your privacy. Before we begin our discussion, would you like a cup of tea?”
“No. You’d probably drug it.”
No laugh. No acknowledgement other than the sound of light footsteps leaving the room, and then the groan of pipes as water runs. The creature comes back into the room and kneels opposite Doyoung, way too close for comfort, with a bowl of steaming water in one hand and a tub of something yellow in the other.
Doyoung pulls back. “If you think I’m putting any of that near my wounds-“
The creature sighs, which shocks Doyoung into silence. It’s the first sign of... emotion he’s seen, or heard. Exasperation is the first clue to a soul, but that’s even worse than thinking the thing that took him had no real motive. If it was just nature, then that would be awful, but to be fuelled by some kind of desire? The thought was horrifying.
“If I leave the water and some bandages will you clean your cuts?”
“If I can get a fresh bowl and fill it with water myself, then yes.”
A faint smile containing no humour. “Alright, if you wish. There will be one in the bathroom.”
So he gets up and heads into the small bathroom, and of course the window is locked. Of course it is. Defeated, he fills the bowl he finds with hot water and returns to find the creature curled up in one of the chairs opposite the sofa, looking at home amongst the aged leather.
He feels like he’s peering inside a dollhouse, at a figure amongst furniture made entirely to suit its aesthetic. A version of reality that isn’t quite real.
He tries to ignore everything as he washes the cuts on his forearms and face, reaching his feet when the bowl of water is muddled by his blood. His hands are shaking, but he perseveres as he picks a thorn out of the arch of his foot and keeps mopping up the blood.
Taeyong would know what to do. He’s used to dressing wounds and making Doyoung feel better.
But Taeyong isn’t here, wherever here is.
“Am I so disgusting to you?” the creature asks.
Doyoung doesn’t look up from his foot. “I’m not sure what you mean.”
“You refuse to look at me.”
“Would you prefer I washed my cuts blindly and went by the sensation of pain alone?”
“I would like you to look at me.”
Doyoung scrubs slightly too hard at a graze and winces. “We don’t all get what we want.”
“Please look at me.”
“If I don’t?” Doyoung asks, scrubbing harder without thinking about how much worse it makes him feel. “Will you peel back my eyelids and force me to? Will you hit me? Beat me until I comply? Or maybe you’ll lock me in a small space without food or water, isolating me until I’ll beg at your feet for any kind of contact.”
The voice is so low, so quiet that Doyoung almost misses the words. “I would never hurt you.”
“You already have.”
“I can’t control the world here.”
“Then why bring me?”
“I promised I would.”
He wants to look up, to question and look for lies, but now it’s a matter of pride. He has so very little control over the situation, but he still has his pride, so he remains silent.
“The salve will help the bleeding and speed up the healing. You can use it if you want, but I won’t force you.”
“What’s in it?”
“No plants you would recognise.”
“You’re underestimating my knowledge of botany.”
“Yes, but none of the plants here are ones that humans know. It is not a matter of knowledge, but of place.”
Doyoung reaches for the jar of salve, unscrews the lid, and hesitantly sniffs. It smells of nothing but faint rain, like mornings by a stream. If he’s here, wherever this is, he might as well use the salve.
He rubs it on his arms first, then waits for some kind of reaction. It stings slightly, but no more than any other kind of salve would, so he gingerly applies it to his face and feet as well, and as the minutes pass, the pains begin to numb.
“You’re eyes aren’t as wide, now. Is the pain dulling?”
“Yes,” he murmurs, screwing the lid. He won’t say thank you, as much as he wants to.
He snorts, despite himself, and drags a hand through his hair. “Sure.”
“I mean it. I don’t want you to suffer.”
“Then take me back.”
“I can’t. Have some tea?”
“Please, you’ve lost blood and you’re weak. Have some tea or some food.”
“I won’t let you starve yourself.”
“You’ll force feed me?”
“If I have to.”
Doyoung picks up the bowl of bloodied water and throws it across the cottage, watching the water spray across the far stone wall and the wooden bowl bounce off the floor. “You didn’t have to bring me here, but you did.”
“I told you, I promised. I made an oath.”
“To who? And what for?”
“Please look at me.”
“I have made myself more human, so I will not scare you as much. Please look at me and tell me if it’s better.”
Curiosity gets the better of him, and Doyoung finds himself meeting the eyes of the most hauntingly beautiful man he’s ever seen. His hair is long in the front, framing his face in chestnut, and while his eyes are still obsidian black, they’re duller, not as reptilian in focus. His skin is like a canvas of pure, pale gold, poreless and completely unmarred. He’s a mockery of humanity, a mannequin or a marble sculpture. Someone that would have been worshipped as a god, hundreds of years ago, but would probably just be an instagram model or something in the modern age Doyoung doesn’t quite understand.
“Is it better?”
He nods slowly, but his voice comes out weak. “You’re still scaring me.”
“I don’t mean to do that.”
“Well you do.”
Meeting those haunting eyes, it’s so much harder to retain his pride. The creature looks beyond perfect, in the way that Doyoung imagines angels must look like. So perfect that it’s terrifying. He’s so out of his depth, so scared, that he finds himself speaking without meaning to, the words rolling faster and faster off his tongue. “I want to go home. I don’t want to be here, how can you just take me and then apologise for scaring me as if this wouldn’t horrify anyone stolen from their home in the dead of the night? Don’t you have any sympathy, any soul?”
“I have sympathy,” the creature says, “but by your definition, I probably don’t have a soul.”
“What are you?”
“I’m just a creature that made an oath I can do nothing other than keep,” he says to Doyoung, eyes almost... almost sad. “But your grandmother called me Jaehyun.”
“Are you lonely when I’m gone?” Taeyong asks one evening, cuddled on the couch, a pillow in his arms. “When I’m off touring the country, following the cries of sick animals, do you feel lonely?”
He doesn’t want Taeyong to worry. He doesn’t want Taeil or Johnny or anyone to worry when they ask if he ever gets lonely, out in the fields and the forests with no one around. The grass sings for him sometimes, when the sun is out. The trees dance, the pollen buzzes.
“I’m never lonely,” he says quietly.
“Good,” Taeyong says, snuggling closer. For once, Doyoung allows it. “I hate the thought of you being alone, but if you’re fine with the plants, I’ll try not to worry so much.”
“Do the animals not bring you the same comfort?”
“They bring me happiness, deep down in my soul. When I heal, I feel at peace like nothing else, but humans are humans, and sometimes even dogs and cats and barnyard animals can’t bring me the same comfort as coming home and hugging you at the end of a long day. I... worry for you, maybe too much. I’m gone more than I like, and you rarely visit the town unless one of us drags you. Who comforts you when you need it?”
“Would you like to hear a secret?” he asks, instead of giving Taeyong a strictly truthful reply. “When I feel sad, I go down to the field behind the graveyard. The daisies like me there, and they comfort me.”
“Do you visit her?”
“Sometimes. Never when I’m sad, though. I don’t want to bring my sadness to her rest.”
Taeyong sighs gently. “She wouldn’t want you to be lonely, Doyoung.”
“I know,” he whispers. “But I have you.”
“And when I’m not here?”
“I have the daisies.”
“How?” Doyoung asks, voice not like his own, “How do you know my grandmother?”
“She was so kind to me, always,” Jaehyun says, eyes as calm as the Dead Sea. “When our worlds were close she would bring me such comfort.”
“I don’t understand,” Doyoung says, anguished. “Where am I? Who are you? What is happening?”
“You’re in my world,” Jaehyun says. “The moon brought us together, allowed me to jump for a moment, though it exhausted me. But you’re safe here.”
“I’m not safe.”
“You are,” Jaehyun says. “I won’t let anything happen to you. I promised.”
“You promised,” Doyoung repeats, the words a thick lump in his throat. “You promised my grandmother?”
“I promised myself.”
He stands abruptly, ignoring the pain that shoots through his feet, and stumbles to the door. Jaehyun doesn’t voice any commands, he doesn’t try to stop Doyoung, he just watches as he stumbles down off the porch and into the damp, overgrown grass, the grass that doesn’t sing.
“If you go to the forest you’ll be hurt again,” Jaehyun says quietly, voice carried on the dead wind. “I’m not the only selfish creature here.”
It scares Doyoung enough to stop. “What?”
“This is my land, so you’re safe. If you leave, I will have to find you and bring you back. The others can get you there, and I cannot allow that.”
“So I’m here or I die,” Doyoung says softly, staring out at the field ahead that ends in a wall of mist. “Within the confines of this tiny space, alone, or I die.”
“You’ll be safe with me.”
“I don’t want to be with you at all.”
Jaehyun’s voice holds no emotion, no tone, no anything. “But you are here with me, and I will keep you safe. Come back inside, Doyoung. You should rest.”
When he enters the cottage again, there’s a new door opposite the couch.
“That’s your room,” Jaehyun says. “Let me know if it’s insufficient.”
Doyoung pushes through to find a room that looks like an extension of the rest of the house: stone walls, tiled floors, with a small bed covered in patchwork covers and lace dangling from the windows in lilac drips. There’s a bookcase near the window and an old rocking chair.
“So this is my cell,” he murmurs, more to himself than anything else.
“Not at all, you aren’t confined to the one room. The whole house is yours to do with as you see fit.”
“All seven inches of house. How wonderful.”
“Is it too small?”
He looks at Jaehyun. “What do you mean?”
“I can make it bigger, if you want. It’s always suited me fine, but it’s just been me. If you want more space I will make it.”
“A cell is a cell, no matter the size.”
Jaehyun looks down to the floor and nods. “If that’s how you feel. I’ll let you sleep. Mornings here aren’t... they aren’t mornings as you know them, but I’ll knock for you, and you can have breakfast. Please rest.” He closes the door behind himself, leaving Doyoung alone in his room.
Outside, the sky of mist is slowly darkening from grey to a deeper grey. Everything feels muted and distant. Doyoung presses his hand against the window and tries not to cry.
He should have listened to Taeil. He should have gone to the stupid party and let the old witches try and set him up with Yukhei for the fifth time, despite how terribly matched they are. He should have asked Taeyong to come home. He should have listened to the plants.
Wherever he is, whatever the moon has done to him, he’s alone now, and the only person he can truly blame is himself.
“I’m never lonely,” he’d told Taeyong.
He’d always had the daisies to sing to him, keep him company in the worst moments.
Here, in this cold and distant world, there are no flowers. No songs.
The world is flat, dull and dead, and Doyoung knows that this is the loneliest he could ever be.
He sleeps fitfully, despite how comfortable the bed is. The house is silent, and yet he wakes every hour, heart in his throat as he turns on the light, certain that Jaehyun is stood in the doorway with his dead eyes, though he never is.
He knocks at what must be morning, when the mist has lightened from the black, though Doyoung is already awake.
“Doyoung,” Jaehyun says through the door, “I’ve left you a towel out, and you’ll find that the chest of draws is full of clothes. You may shower if you like, or use the bath, before breakfast.”
“You’ll give me privacy?”
Jaehyun keeps saying these things, as if it should be taken for granted that he’s allowing Doyoung some freedom within his prison. It makes Doyoung angry, furious again when he yanks open the draws and sees clothes he could never afford for himself, all cashmere jumpers and soft trousers. They’re all the right size, even the shoes left at the foot of the bed. Everything is perfect.
He storms out of the room and into the bathroom, slamming the door behind himself and locking it, and then stares for a long time at the neatly folded towel and the small rubber duck sat on top.
It’s cute and he hates that.
He unlocks the bathroom door to throw the duck out and slams it shut again, then runs the deepest, hottest bath he can, sinking into the water fully clothed until his skin hurts all over, is red and raw and he feels like he’s cooking alive.
He holds his breath and sinks down, opening his eyes beneath the water until his entire body is burning agony, then blows his breath out and waits.
His lungs grow weak, and he struggles not to open his mouth.
He stares up and waits for reality to come back, waits for the view of his own ceiling, of Taeil’s concerned face above his own.
His vision stars to dim, and in the distance, somewhere so far away that it’s nothing but a tickle at the back of his mind, he can hear the daisies screaming.
A hand reaches across his vision.
He’s pulled from the water and rolled onto his side, cold tiles against his face as he starts to cough up water, spluttering, trying to inhale, brain foggy as he fades back into his own body.
He can do nothing but cough, curling tighter into himself as he tries with all of his might to breathe.
It’s Jaehyun’s voice. He’s still here, which means there really is no going back. He’s just... here.
He looks up at Jaehyun’s pale face and is shocked by the fear he finds there. His eyes are wide and unseeing, his clothes beginning to soak through from the excess water clinging to Doyoung, his hair in disarray. He pushes Doyoung’s wet hair from his forehead with a hand that holds a fine tremor.
“Can you hear me? Doyoung?”
He nods and coughs again, lifting a hand to cover his mouth, but pausing when he sees how red his skin is. He really did that to himself.
Jaehyun, sat on the soaked floor with Doyoung’s head in his lap, looks down at him with something foreign in his gaze. Something almost human.
At first it looks like fear, like horror, but the longer Doyoung keeps his gaze, the more it turns into something else. Something hotter. Something closer to fury.
“What were you doing?” Jaehyun hisses. “What were you thinking?”
“I-“ Doyoung tries to reply, but his voice cuts out and he coughs again, throat raw. “I was trying to wake myself up.”
“You were already awake.”
“I don’t want this to be real,” he says. “I don’t want this to be me; I don’t want to be awake. I don’t want this to be reality.”
Jaehyun holds him tighter, but after a second he sighs, and the anger fades back into the blank expanse of nothing. “No matter how you feel, this is you. You are awake, and this is reality. There’s no need to hurt yourself to try and prove otherwise.”
“Let me go.”
“Even if I wanted to I couldn’t,” Jaehyun says. “The moon has moved and the doorway is closed. I’m not a world jumper, I’m a world builder. It almost killed me to bring you here; it would definitely kill me to send you back. It might kill you too.”
“Why did I bring you here? I already told you, I made a promise.”
“What was the promise?” Doyoung asks, lightheaded. “What were the terms?”
“I promised to keep you safe,” Jaehyun whispers. “And I will. I’ll keep you safe, even if you hate me. Even if you despise me, I’ll keep you safe.”
Jaehyun makes him shower in cool water to soothe his skin, with the broken bathroom door unlocked and open a crack. A precaution, apparently, despite how Jaehyun had effortlessly broken through the lock when he’d realised Doyoung was hurting himself. Perhaps more of a warning to Doyoung, that he’s being watched even if there are no eyes on him.
He’s always thought of himself as a reasonable man, certainly a capable one. He has a quick, steady mind, and is good at working through problems. He knows, then, when there isn’t a forthcoming solution. He knows when to give in.
So he showers in the cool water, despite the sting of his skin, and he leaves the door open a crack as he listens to the noise of Jaehyun making breakfast he knows he’s going to have to eat.
Once he’s clean, he gently dries himself with the soft towel, and notes the jar of white cream Jaehyun had left on the sink. It smells like lavender. When Doyoung examines the jar, he finds a small, handwritten label on the bottom, with no information other than ‘Lotion for Doyoung’s skin. He likes lavender and honey.’
It’s bliss against his raw skin, and he makes sure his whole body is coated in the lotion before he puts on the clothes left out for him. He combs his hair, looks in the mirror at his healing cuts on his face and the bags under his eyes, the skin that’s dulling from red to pink, and feels more human than he had since waking in the house that was not his own.
Jaehyun serves him bacon and eggs on the small oak table at the edge of the kitchen area. “I hope this is okay. I’ve never cooked eggs before.”
Doyoung stares down at the plate. “What... what kind of eggs are these?”
“You have chickens here?”
Jaehyun shakes his head and sits opposite Doyoung. “No, we don’t. Not your chickens, anyway, but a mirror of them. I promise the eggs are fine.”
“You promise,” Doyoung mutters, still staring at the food. “And the bacon? From a mirror pig, I assume?”
“Yes, in a way you are right.” Jaehyun gestures to the food. “Please eat. If it’s not enjoyable, I can make you something different. Would you like a drink?”
“Whatever you’d like. If I don’t have it, I can fetch it.”
The thought pulls a reluctant smile to Doyong’s lips. “Do you have a mirror corner store here where you get your milk and bread, Jaehyun?”
Jaehyun smiles. He smiles so wide that his eyes close and dimples press into his smooth cheeks, and it shocks Doyoung into complete stillness. “You used my name.”
He picks up some bacon on his fork. “I did.”
“Do you like it?”
He puts the bacon in his mouth and chews cautiously, but it tastes like any other piece of bacon he’s ever eaten. “Hm?”
“Do you like my name?”
“I... suppose so.”
It’s odd. Even for a creature Doyoung doesn’t understand, Jaehyun is odd. If he were to be held captive, Jaehyun is perhaps the most awkward and ill fitted captor to exist. If he were to be a bloodthirsty fiend, Jaehyun is the most sated of them all. His disposition appears to be entirely calm.
“What do you do?” Doyoung finds himself asking, cutting up more bacon. “In your daily life. What is it you do?”
Jaehyun blinks. “I watch, and I write, and I build.”
It’s not much to work with. “Okay,” Doyoung replies, eating more. The food sits weirdly in his stomach, but he pushes past it. “May I have some tea?”
Jaehyun lights up again. “Of course!” He gets out of his chair and begins setting up the kitchen, putting water on the stove to boil, pulling out mugs from a cupboard beneath the sink. “Do you want ginger in your tea?”
“I know you’ve been drinking it with ginger, recently. Is it a preference or is it for an ailment?”
Doyoung puts down his cutlery, faint again. I know you. “So when you say you watch, you mean you watch me.”
“I keep you safe.”
“You watch me.”
“Yes. Do you want ginger?”
“I suppose so.”
Jaehyun nods and turns back to the mug, pulling a jar off a shelf to sprinkle ginger. The smell trails over to Doyoung, slightly spicy, warming and real. It makes him think of Taeyong, and the back of his throat tightens with grief. “Why do you take ginger now? I’ve wanted to ask you.”
He swallows back his emotions and folds his hands on his lap. “It’s good for your throat.”
“Have you had pains?”
“When I sing, sometimes.”
Jaehyun looks up at him from the counter, his eyes dark and as neutral as ever. “I’ve never heard you sing.”
“I wanted to. I could see you, but hearing you was almost impossible, and when you sing your voice is too light. It was like watching you through thick glass.”
“Why me?” Doyoung asks, sick at the thought of someone seeing him and wanting to know him. He’s not beautiful, not special, not particularly intelligent or creative or special in any way, and yet he’s here. “Why out of the millions of people out there, why me?”
“It had to be you.”
“Because I promised.”
“You keep saying that, but it tells me nothing.”
Jaehyun turns back to the tea. “You’ll like this, I made sure to let it steep as you do. I’ve been practicing to make sure I get it right.”
He watches Jaehyun swallow, but otherwise not acknowledge Doyoung had spoken. “Let me know if I’ve got it wrong and I’ll try again.”
“Please don’t do that,” he whispers softly, looking down at the steaming mug. “Don’t use my name against me, I can’t bear it.”
“What do you know of my grandmother?”
“Why am I here, Jaehyun?”
“You can.” He stands. “Jaehyun.”
“Tell me, Jaehyun.”
“I can’t!” He slams the mug down and spills boiling water over his hand, but he doesn’t so much as flinch. He takes a deep breath and releases it slowly as Doyoung watches in fear from the table, as water burns and blisters Jaehyun’s hand and the smell of ginger permeates the warm air. “Why do you keep pushing me?”
“It’s what I do,” Doyoung whispers. “I push and I annoy and I anger. I’ll keep doing it. You’ll hate me soon enough. You’ll wish you’d never seen me.”
Jaehyun pours out the rest of the tea and refills the kettle. “Maybe you should go and pick a novel off the shelves in your room. Read for a while, or I can get you a television. Would you like that? I can bring your tea through when it’s ready.”
Doyoung presses his lips together. “Thank you for the breakfast.”
Jaehyun doesn’t turn around. “You’re welcome, Doyoung.”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re so not my type.”
Doyoung swallows his drink successfully, despite the urge to cough it into Yukhei’s face. “Okay. Care to tell me how I could do anything other than take that the wrong way?”
Yukhei giggles. “Are you saying you’d want to date me?”
“Well then, don’t be grumpy.”
Roses behind Yukhei dance in their vase, full of glee at Doyoung’s embarrassment. This is not how he wants to spend any kind of evening, being forced into a corner of the rented function room along with Yukhei as they’re watched by the elders waiting to see if they’ll fall in love over the hors d'oeuvres. “Sorry.”
Yukhei, despite his almost inhumane beauty, has the personality of a happy toddler and just laughs again. “Don’t sweat it. They always think that they can shove me next to any nature witch and I’ll immediately fall in love, for some reason. I don’t get it. Just because I can make the sun shine doesn’t mean I want someone that makes the flowers grow.”
Doyoung nods and drinks again. “There’s no real discernment for who they shove me into, anymore. They gave up after a while and just started forcing me at everyone. Taeil too, because he’s starting to worry about me as much as the elders.”
“I like to be alone.”
“That doesn’t sound like a bad thing.”
“They think it is.”
Yukhei looks at him, too content in himself to scrutinise, but just intelligent enough to see more than Doyoung wants him to. “You’re funny, and nice too, in a weird way. I don’t think you’re someone that really wants to be alone. Maybe you’re scared of what it means to let someone be close.”
He passes the day alone in the room Jaehyun had made for him.
He reads for a while, an old book on herbs, then tries a crime thriller that’s so painfully human that it draws a reluctant laugh from Doyoung when the brooding detective admits he’s fallen in love with the mysterious wife of the main suspect.
Every hour there’s a knock at the door, and when Doyoung opens it a crack there’s a tray outside, with steaming tea and some kind of snack.
Other than that, Jaehyun leaves him alone until the sky begins to darken again, and Doyoung washes himself and readies for sleep.
He climbs into the bed, beneath the sweet smelling sheets, and stares at the ceiling in the dark.
He wonders what Taeyong is doing, how the birth of the calf went.
He wonders if Taeil’s party went well, if Johnny enjoyed spending the day with his sister.
He wonders if he’s being missed, or if, when he was taken from their world, it was as if he’d never been there at all.
He lasts three days in the stone cottage, with no one to talk to but himself, before he decides he’s had enough of acting like defeated damsel in one of the stupid fairy-tales he’d read as a kid.
He waits until the sky has been dark for hours, and the sounds of Jaehyun moving around have stopped, and then he waits a little longer, just to be safe.
The shoes Jaehyun had provided fit well, as do the rest of the clothes, so Doyoung dresses warmly, and then after listening close to Jaehyun’s bedroom door, focused on any kind of sounds, he slowly makes his way to the front door.
Outside, the air is frigid, the mist almost opaque.
Doyoung feels the moment he leaves the boundary of Jaehyun’s land.
It reverberates up from the souls of his feet and settles into his chest like a heavy piece of metal cooling him from the inside, vicelike, constricting.
The land is hostile.
Grass grows up around his ankles, but he steps quickly, avoiding the needle points of the blades trying to burrow beneath his skin.
‘Where are you going to go?' the reasonable voice in his head asks as he hurries foreword, arms outstretched for any trees, anything to collide with past the extent of his diminished vision. ‘There’s nowhere safe here.’
He reaches the tree line and scratches the palm of his hand on a rough trunk, but keeps pushing forward. He can’t stop, he can’t let his feet longer for too long in one place or the ground might swallow him whole, the trees might rip at his skin and force their branches into his eyes.
He swallows his fear and keeps moving, repeating the word rationality in his head like a mantra. Like if he says it, he’ll know what to do.
He steps over a root and lands in an icy cold puddle, shocking a gasp out of him that almost turns into a scream when he looks up from the water and sees that the trees have ended.
There’s a lake.
A huge expanse of a lake, surrounded by the forest, framed by the black sky, the water completely still. No birds fly, no fish swimming, no bugs dancing on the surface.
Just a still lake in a still forest in a still, entirely unmoving world.
“You look cold.”
He spins around to find the owner of the voice, but he sees nothing.
‘Rationality,’ his mind chants as he backs away from the edge of the water. ‘Stay rational.’
“Are you? Are you cold?”
The voice is coming from the lake.
There, metres from the shore, are two eyes just above the waterline. Two dark, beautiful eyes beneath a mop of wet black hair that blends into the backdrop of night. One slender hand comes out of the water to wave spindly fingers at Doyoung. “Are you cold?”
He’s – it’s beautiful. More haunting than anything Doyoung has ever seen, icy pale and bare.
“You’d be warmer in the water.”
Doyoung blinks. The water? “I don’t... understand.”
“The lake is so warm. Can’t you feel the heat? It’s welcoming you.”
Doyoung bends down, reaching out one hand to trail his fingers in the water. It’s cold.
It’s so cold it hurts.
“You’ll be warm in the water,” the voice says. “I’ll keep you warm.”
Vines twist around his ankles and he hits the dirt with a thud. Water laps at his legs, and it takes a crucial second for Doyoung to realise that if he goes into the water, he’s going to drown. He’s going to die.
The eyes stare out at him as he struggles to kick away from the vines, ripping with his hands only for more to tangle around his legs, as panic and terror begins to numb his mind and the water seeps into his clothes and his ruined skin.
“Can’t you feel the warmth? You’ll feel better soon. You’ll be with me soon.”
The water covers his chest, his arms and his hands locked at his side as it begins to lap at his chin. He’s so cold, so cold. His lungs spasm from the fear and the cold and the horror as he realises he’s going to die. He’s really going to die.
“Jaehyun!” he screams.
The water reaches his mouth, and just as he sucks in a lungful of water, it’s all gone.
He splutters, hands coming up to his mouth as he chokes out the water, as warmth, real warmth envelops him, as arms surround him and rock him gently, as he hyperventilates through the terror making him shake.
“I’m sorry,” the warm voice whispers, “I’m sorry Doyoung, I’m so sorry. I wasn’t looking, I wasn’t watching, I didn’t see you go. I’m sorry.”
He presses closer, unable to do anything else.
“I won’t let it happen again, I promise,” Jaehyun says. “Another oath, this one to you. I won’t let anything hurt you ever again.”
He doesn’t remember getting back to the stone cottage, but he sobs with relief when he’s through the boundary of land, back into the shelter of Jaehyun’s home, where the world no longer hurts.
“You can have a bath,” Jaehyun says quietly, ushering him to the couch, running through to get towels and begin drying his hair. “You can have a bath and get warm, and I’ll-“
“No,” Doyoung says, the word ripped from his throat, “No more water.”
“You need to get warm, Doyoung, or you’ll get sick.”
“I won’t go back in the water, I can’t,” he says, looking at Jaehyun, past the point of feeling shame for begging. “Don’t make me go in the water again, please.”
Jaehyun stares back at him, face still, but his eyes writhing with indecision. “But you need to get warm.”
“Tea,” Doyoung says, “Ginger tea. A change of clothes, maybe blankets – I don’t care, just don’t make me go back into the water.”
Jaehyun watches him, examining his face with a scrutiny he can’t feel through the fear. “Okay,” he says after a long moment. “Okay. No water.”
“No water,” Doyoung repeats.
“No water. I promise.”
You promise. I’ll keep you safe, I promise. “You’re not very good at keeping your promises,” Doyoung says.
Jaehyun swallows. “I’ve never had to make any before. I’ll keep trying, for you.”
“What was that?” he asks, hours later. His body temperature has evened out, he’s drank more tea than he knows what to do with, and Jaehyun has barely looked away from him for a second, as if fearful he’ll blink and Doyoung will be gone.
“In the lake?”
“That was my friend.”
He can’t gather the energy to feel shock, so he just laughs softly and shakes his head. “Of course it was. Your friend. Of course.”
“Insofar as any of us can have friends, here, I suppose that yes, Ten would be my friend.”
“I come from the earth, but he comes from the water, and others come from the sky. His home is in the lake.”
“Why did he-“ Doyoung swallows. “Why did he try and drown me?”
“He wouldn’t have drowned you,” Jaehyun says, curled up on the chair opposite the couch. He sits so tightly, as if he may fall apart if he isn’t squashing himself together. “He would have taken you under the surface, and he would have kissed you. You would have died then, like that, before your lungs could flood.”
“How comforting,” Doyoung snaps.
“I’m sorry. I think... I think that he’s sorry, too. He didn’t know who you were, only that a human was here, wandering our world. They’re so rare here, and he’s so hungry.”
“We all have to eat.”
The implication is too horrifying for Doyoung to register. “He... he was going to eat me.”
“Just your heart.”
“And, pray tell, how exactly am I safer here than in my own world?”
“In the past week alone, you have come close to death seventeen times. Be it from bad drivers, gas heating, poor electric wiring, poisonous plants, or your own absent mindedness, you have come close to death seventeen times in the past week, and for four of those days you have been here, with only two threats, one of them being yourself. That means that within three days in your own world, you neared death fifteen times. At least when you are here I know what can threaten your safety, and I know I can reach you in time.”
“I would rather be hit by a bad driver than have my heart eaten by a monster.”
“Neither will happen, because you’re here now. You’re safe again.”
“Let me go.”
“I can’t,” Jaehyun says again, exhaustion in his eyes. “It would probably kill us both.”
He isolates himself in his room and recovers from the terror, alone.
Jaehyun leaves him tea and food outside of the door, with nothing but gentle knocks to alert Doyoung to his presence. Other than that, it’s as if he’s completely alone in the small house.
Jaehyun leaves no footsteps, no dirty clothes, no used plates, no signs of living.
It’s like Doyoung is sharing a house with a ghost.
Days later, Doyoung wakes to a brighter sky than he can remember.
He dresses and cleans himself, and then pushes out of the house and into the walled garden, looking up at the sky. It’s not blue, and there’s no sun, but the grey is less grey and more white, like a sheet of thin cloud covers the expanse of the horizon.
“Jungwoo has begun to settle.”
He turns around to see Jaehyun in the doorway, dressed as neatly as ever, face smooth. “What?”
“He didn’t like that I brought you here. We argued. He punished me by making the skies dark, because he didn’t want to lash out in a way that could hurt you. Bad skies hurt no one, but I suppose they got his point across.”
“Who is he?”
“Another friend, of sorts.”
“One from the sky?”
“Will he try to eat me too?”
Jaehyun shakes his head. “He knows who you are, he won’t hurt you. Ten won’t either, now that he knows.”
“Forgive me for my distrust,” Doyoung says, voice thick with sarcasm.
“I have a gift for you,” Jaehyun says, stepping out of the house and into the grass. “Since Jungwoo has forgiven me, now is the time for it. They wouldn’t have grown if he’d taken the pleasantness out of the skies.”
Jaehyun walks around to the back of the cottage, and with nothing to do other than follow, Doyoung walks with him. There’s a shed, small and rotting, but when Jaehyun opens the rusty old lock, the inside is... alive.
There are tiny sprouts everywhere, bulbs and seeds in pots and trays, daisies growing from every surface.
“Within the garden, you can plant whatever you like. Grow whatever you wish.”
Doyoung steps forward slowly, one hand reaching towards the closest daisy. It doesn’t feel like his daisies, but the closest anything in this world has. It feels like a doorway, like he could tug on the leaf of the plant and somewhere else, a daisy would dance beneath the ministrations of his tugging.
“They’ll grow?” he asks through numb lips. “You’ll let me grow?”
“My land will welcome whatever you wish to plant. Just... please don’t cut down any of the daisies here.”
“I wouldn’t,” Doyoung says, stumbling forward again. He enters the shed, strokes a soft petal, and tries not to cry. “I thought this whole world was dead.”
“Most of it is. Whatever grows must be nurtured with tenderness.”
He looks at Jaehyun, with his serious face and dark eyes. “How long did it take you to grow these flowers?”
“Years, in your time. Maybe decades, but I can’t be entirely sure.” He smiles faintly. “Don’t worry though, the land likes you more, so your plants will flourish.”
“The land likes me more? But it’s your land. It’s you.”
“Yes,” Jaehyun says. “It is.”
He wakes the next day with an excitement unlike anything he’s ever experienced; rushing out of the house before Jaehyun’s bedroom door has opened, heading straight for the shed to browse the seeds and bulbs.
“Which ones first,” he mutters, looking at the labels, each hand written like the pots and jars that litter Jaehyun’s home, in the familiar, delicate script he has come to know. “Bog myrtle? I’ve never seen that before. Harebell? Lavender?”
Lotion for Doyoung’s skin. He likes lavender and honey.
Doyoung stumbles out of the shed and faces the voice at the other side of the stone wall, belonging to an ethereally beautiful man with a gentle smile. “Are... are you going to try and eat me too?”
“Eat you?” the man cocks his head. “Ah, you must have met Ten. No, I won’t try and eat you, I don’t eat hearts.”
“What do you eat?”
His heart sinks. “What?”
The man giggles. “I’m sorry; I can’t help but tease you. I’ve never spoken to a human in this world before.”
“Are you Jungwoo?”
“Yes! Did Jaehyun tell you about me?”
“He said you were angry.”
“I was. I still am, but I understand much more now. I can’t blame him.”
“Because,” Jungwoo says, as if the one word explains everything. “Anyway, it’s nice to meet you. What are you doing?”
“I’m going to plant.”
Jungwoo nods. “From what I’ve heard about you, that would make sense. I’ll make sure that the skies are soft for you today, so that your plants survive.”
“Thank you,” Doyoung says, mystified. “What have you heard about me?”
“Not much. Jaehyun keeps information about you close to his chest, because he worries that one of the others will hurt you to hurt him, so he says very little. But he told me you like the daisies he sends.”
“He-“ Doyoung stops, voice cutting out. “He sends the daisies?”
“Can’t you feel them?” Jungwoo asks, gesturing towards the shed. “He put a special piece of himself into the flowers so that he could reach you when you need him.”
“Why?” Doyoung whispers, staring blindly at the daisies that nod in the still wind.
“Because he saw how lonely you were. The old woman that used to visit him spoke about you often, about her grandson with the sad eyes and the sharp tongue and gentle hands. Once she passed, Jaehyun knew you would be alone, he knew you would grieve. He wanted to bring you some comfort, but he could never breach your world fully. He put part of himself in the flowers and came to you through the daisies.”
Doyoung looks at Jungwoo, though he can barely see. His voice shakes when he asks, “My grandmother came here?”
“She loved Jaehyun. She named him, after all. She said she loved him with all she had, because he was as gentle as you.” Jungwoo smiles. “Could you get him for me, please? There’s something I need to discuss with him, and with you on his land, he’ll become angry if I enter.”
“Jaehyun!” Doyoung shouts.
After a couple of seconds, Jaehyun stumbles from the cottage and out into the garden. He smiles when he sees Jungwoo. “It’s good to see you.”
“And you. Please may I have a moment of your time?”
“Sure.” He looks at Doyoung, reaches out one hand to touch his shoulder, but thinks better of it and let’s it drop back to his side. “Will you be okay on your own? I’ll feel if you leave, so please don’t, I don’t want to have to save you from another of the creatures.”
“I’ll stay right here,” Doyoung lies. “I’ll be planting.”
Jaehyun smiles, and his dimples visit like sunshine from behind the clouds. “Okay. I won’t be long.” He jumps over the wall and joins Jungwoo, who offers Doyoung a little wave, and they both set off into the mist.
Once their figures are gone from sight, Doyoung runs into the cottage, sparing only a moment of hesitation before he pushes open the door to Jaehyun’s room.
He doesn’t know what to expect, but it’s just like his own room.
The bed is bigger, in the centre of the room, but other than that, it’s almost a mirror.
Doyoung walks forward gingerly, waiting for some kind of trap, though nothing comes. Jaehyun doesn’t run back into the house screaming, so he takes another step, and another, until he’s in the middle of the room.
The only real, substantial difference between their rooms is the book beside Jaehyun’s bed.
It’s old, red leather, and Doyoung picks it up and opens it with care as the spine creaks. Inside, each page is covered with the familiar scrawl of Jaehyun’s writing, the ink perfect, like a novel printed when books were still novelty, each letter slaved over.
Doyoung opens a random page towards the front of the book and begins reading.
I was a child when Mrs Kim made her first visit, and she was a young woman. She comforted me.
Now I am an adult. She is old, and she has a family. I forget that time passes differently in our worlds, and yet she still comforts me. She told me today of her husband and her children, and they sound wonderful. I don’t understand family yet, but through her teachings I may come to learn.
He flips to another page.
She talks of her youngest grandson often. She worries for him and what she has named his ‘isolated spirit.’ She laughed and touched my knee today, and said that I give her hope. When I asked why, she replied, “If there are people like you in the world then maybe Doyoung will find his place too.”
At times, when I am with her I forget our worlds are not the same. She makes me feel more at home than any place ever could.
Doyoung sits on the bed, carefully, so that his heart doesn’t fracture in his chest, and flicks to another page.
Is this what having a mother feels like?
She said if I came to her world, she would raise me as her grandson. She said there would be a place for me, but I cannot make the journey. It is hard enough to ensure she travels the path safely, and if I went through myself I fear I would never come back.
I saw a picture of Doyoung today. He is human and flawed, but he is beautiful. Mrs Kim laughed at my expression, and when I asked why, she said it was the most human I had ever looked. She said that many people look like that around Doyoung, though he remains oblivious to it.
I watched him today. He lives a life of quiet solitude. Even around friends, laughing and smiling, it’s as if his eyes are somewhere else. I wonder where he goes.
Mrs Kim came to me today, for the first time in almost three of her human years. She said she doesn’t have long left, and it’s true. I could smell the death lingering near her. She fears for Doyoung.
She came again. She made me promise I would keep him safe, and I swore.
He grieves as quietly and as isolated as he does anything else. I wonder if it is grief I am feeling too, when I yearn for her comfort and find it nowhere. I wish I could comfort him. I wish I could hold him when he cries, alone and silent amidst the fields.
It’s three weeks after his twenty second birthday, and he rejected his boyfriend’s offer to move in together. He told the man that he would not leave Taeyong, which dissolved into an argument that lead to the termination of their relationship. He is scared of letting people close, but I’ve noticed how he seeks out the flowers when he’s sad. Perhaps I can help.
He likes wild daisies.
Doyoung closes the book and puts it back on the table, dusts off the edge of the sheets so that there’s no trace of his presence, and then leaves the room, closing the door softly behind him.
Jaehyun isn’t back, and he’s still alone.
He goes back outside, to the shed and the daisies, and begins to pull out all the tools he will need to surround Jaehyun’s lonely house with blooming flowers.
Every day, he spends his hours in the garden. He rids the land of the awful grass, throwing huge chunks of the soil over Jaehyun’s wall and into the unwelcoming earth at the other side, and he plants. He wants no grass, no tame land, only encompassing growth, vines and flowers reaching toward the sunless sky.
And Jaehyun watches him destroy the garden and rebuild. He watches Doyoung, wordless, as his neat garden is ruined on a whim.
“You don’t care?” Doyoung asks on the fourth day, wiping sweat from his forehead, smearing dirt on his face.
Jaehyun is sat on the porch, a cup of steaming ginger tea waiting for when Doyoung wants it. “I told you, do whatever you want with the land.”
“If I burnt it? If I wanted all of the grass gone, no plants, no nothing, what would you do then?”
“I’d let you do whatever you wanted,” Jaehyun says. He closes his eyes and tips his face up towards the warm, white sky. “Whatever makes you happy.”
“Why?” Doyoung asks, watching him.
“Because I want you to be happy.”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you lonely here, Jaehyun?”
His eyes don’t open. “Whatever I am, I was not made to feel emotions such as loneliness.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
“I’m not very good at answering questions, I’m sorry Doyoung. Would you like some tea?”
He waits until Jaehyun is asleep, or however it is he rests, and then in the dead of night, he leaves again.
There’s less fear this time and more purpose as he seeks out the lake, batting away intrusive tree branches and insidious roots.
Of course he’s scared, because all he knows about the lake is that he almost died there, but it seems inconsequential this time. He needs answers from another perspective.
“I didn’t think you’d be back any time soon,” the familiar, smooth voice says.
Doyoung walks forward despite his trembling hands, balling his fists until he sees the edge of the water lapping at his shoes. It’s darker this time, the mist thicker, the night silent. No matter how far he strains to see, he can’t find the eyes in the lake. “Ten,” he says quietly, voice carrying across the still water. “I want to speak to you.”
He spins towards the voice, heart in his throat, and sees Ten half hidden behind a tree, eyes peering out, a playful twist at the corner of his cruel looking mouth. Jungwoo has a gentle beauty, Jaehyun a calm one, and Ten’s is... impish. Almost entirely wicked.
Doyoung swallows and hopes he’ll manage to leave with his heart still beating soundly inside his chest. “I want to know some things about Jaehyun.”
“Why come to me for that?”
“He refuses to answer my questions, and I know where you live. If I could have found Jungwoo without risking myself further, I would have, but I didn’t want to arouse suspicion by asking Jaehyun.”
“So smart,” Ten says, one small hand curling around the trunk of the tree, his smile widening to show sharp, white teeth. “So smart, and you smell so good. I’ve never eaten a person before; I wonder if you taste as good.”
“You won’t hurt me,” Doyoung says, forcing as much blind confidence into his voice as he can past the thudding fear.
“What makes you say that?”
“Jaehyun wouldn’t let you.”
“So confident in your worth to him,” Ten says, eyebrows rising. “What, has he kissed you yet? Fucked you? Has he told you he needs you, that he’s spent his life trying to care for you? Has he worshipped you like a priest at the altar? Or are you guessing your own significance in the life of someone who owes you nothing.”
Doyoung swallows. “He’s very kind to me, as much as a captor could be considered kind.”
“He’s not keeping you captive,” Ten scoffs, humour in his endless eyes. “Don’t you understand that you have complete control? He’s weak for you, entirely defenceless. You could do anything to him, and he wouldn’t object.”
“I can do anything but leave.”
“Oh, you can leave.”
Doyoung falters. “What?”
“You can leave. I could take you back to your world right now, but you wouldn’t survive the journey.”
“That isn’t a choice.”
“It is,” Ten says. “You choose to stay with him.”
“I choose to live, not-“
“Phrase it however you like, but you would have died without his intervention.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean,” Ten says, stepping from behind the tree, staring, “I would have killed you. I would have put my fingers into your chest, snapped through your ribcage, and pulled your heart from your body. Before that, without his intervention, there were other things that would have killed you. A car driving too fast when you crossed the street while staring at your phone, only to break before contact. A feral animal hiding in wait, only to be calmed at the last second. A spark doused before it can become a flame. He’s not powerful for our kind, you know, he’s barely strong enough to survive out here on his own, but he still siphons himself away to keep you safe in your own world. Our kind are created to be selfish creatures, and Jaehyun is no exception to that. He fights his own nature to make sure you’re safe.”
“I don’t understand why,” Doyoung says.
Jaehyun is – he’s kind. He’s kind and he’s gentle, he’s never once raised his voice or hit Doyoung or acted like he’s anything other than something to be cherished, and yet he won’t let him go. How can Doyoung be expected to be happy here in this world away from his home?
“We aren’t born, you know,” Ten replies, stepping closer. He circles Doyoung slowly, pale skin glowing in the low light, eyes as bottomless as the lake. “Fae aren’t born and we don’t feel love. Our previous incarnations die, and then we appear from wherever it is we draw power from, full of memories from past lives, but in the body of a child. We grow from nothing, with nobody. I awoke in the lake, and Jaehyun awoke in the ground. I suppose in a way it makes sense that Jungwoo fears heights, since he was born and fell from the sky.”
“Has modelled his behaviour from what little of humanity he has seen and read of. We don’t register things in the same way that you do, but he’s trying. I don’t think you’re worth the effort, but he’s been enamoured since he first saw you, since your grandmother breached the gap and showed him a picture of you amongst sunflowers.”
“Do you know why my grandmother came here – how she came?”
“No,” Ten says, dancing back a couple of steps, so light on his feet it’s like he weighs nothing. “I don’t. Do you have any more questions for me, Kim Doyoung?”
“Yes,” he says, quiet and sad. A child clawing his way from the cruel earth only to breathe his first breath and find himself entirely alone, memories of a life he’d never lived behind his eyes. Doyoung can’t imagine the pain of it. “Is Jaehyun lonely?”
“We aren’t made to feel isolation,” Ten says. “But he’s so human now that I barely recognise him. I would suppose that yes, he’s lonely.”
The next evening, after another cycle in the garden, Jaehyun calls to Doyoung that there’s dinner.
He would usually murmur thanks and go eat it in his room, on his lap on the bed with a book, but this time he takes the plate to the table and sits patiently, waiting for Jaehyun to stop cleaning and realise that Doyoung hasn’t left.
When he does turn, his eyes widen, round and strangely innocent. Then he smiles. “Oh,” he says. “You’re eating in here tonight?”
“If you don’t mind.”
“Of course not, you can eat wherever you like.”
“Will you join me?”
Jaehyun’s smile widens, his dimples flashing. “If you’d like.” He puts down his rag and takes the seat opposite Doyoung, happy to watch him eat.
After a few minutes in silence, Doyoung puts down his fork. “Don’t you ever eat?”
“I don’t hunger like you do. Food doesn’t taste of anything, and it doesn’t do anything for me, so it would be entirely pointless to consume.”
“What do you eat?”
“I’m from the earth,” Jaehyun says, as if it explains everything. “The ground sustains me.”
Doyoung stabs some pasta and chews slowly. “But why does Ten eat hearts? Surely if that’s how things work here then he should just drink water and be fine.”
“Ten and I are not the same creatures, and it doesn’t work like that. We don’t follow patterns. He must hunt to eat, and eat to live. I rest and survive off that, but my strengths are lesser, my presence weaker. Jungwoo consumes energy rather than physical matter, and because of that he can travel easily between worlds, not grounded to one plain.”
It’s the most information Jaehyun has ever given him in one go, and it takes a long moment for Doyoung to register the full extent of what exactly Jaehyun means when he says, ‘he can travel between worlds.’ “He can travel?”
“Yes.” Jaehyun’s smile dims. “It’s why he wished to speak to me days past, when you were in the garden. We’ve decided to try and...” he fades off, and his smile vanishes completely. “Well, he’s been kinder to me than was warranted, and I understand now that having you here isn’t fair. You can’t be happy here, alone in this house. No matter how the garden looks, no one could be happy here alone. He’s going to try and take you home.”
Doyoung puts his cutlery down, staring blindly at Jaehyun. “You’re going to take me home?”
“Your grandmother was very kind to me. She first came here by accident, you know, as a young girl. I was a child, and I was scared. This world is cruel, and despite her own fear, she tried to comfort me, and she gave me my name, an identity to separate me from the creatures of the earth that had come before me. Once she left, I cried for a long time, because I never thought she would return. She did, eventually, but she had aged much more than I had. She had a husband, and she was pregnant. She planted the first flowers in my garden, and told me that they help her, that she hoped they would help me too.” Jaehyun looks out of the window towards the darkening sky. “She was the only family I have ever known. She... she would want you happy, more than anything else. That was what she always wanted for you. If going home will make you happy, then we will take you home.”
“You mean it? You’re not lying?”
“I mean it,” Jaehyun says. “I promise.”
“Thank you,” Doyoung whispers. “Jaehyun, thank you. Thank you so much.”
Jaehyun smiles again, faint but warm. “Eat before your food gets cold, Doyoung.”
He continues to plant, every single day, to leave Jaehyun with a parting gift, a kindness of sorts.
Jaehyun sits on the porch and watches. Sometimes he makes tea, sometimes he writes.
Whenever Doyoung looks up, he’s always watching him with his steady, dark eyes.
Jungwoo visits one evening. “Two days from now,” he says softly. “Two days from now and I will have the strength to bring you home.”
Doyoung nearly cries. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me,” Jungwoo replies, resting his hands on Jaehyun’s crumbling wall. “You were never meant to be here at all. This place isn’t good for humans.”
“How did my grandmother survive?”
“She found a breach, I would guess,” Jungwoo replies, looking skyward. “But the boundaries between worlds are so fickle, and unless your powers lie in travelling, you cannot know where or even when you will end up. It’s why she aged so, whenever she visited. If you were ever to come back, you may be too elderly to survive it.”
“Did you know my grandmother?”
“In passing. She was a loving woman. She cared for Jaehyun dearly.”
“If you were human, how old do you think you would be?” Doyoung asks, watching Jungwoo closely. The way he speaks, the way his mouth curls around his words – he looks young, and not just in appearance. His spirit sings of youth.
“I’m not sure. Twenty, maybe? Twenty one? Your years confuse me.”
“And how old are you here?”
“We don’t have years,” Jungwoo says, blinking slowly. “But time is ageless here, anyway. What feels like a month to you may be a hundred years, or a minute.” He blinks again and smiles. “Can you fetch Jaehyun for me, once again? I have some small things to work out.”
He’s desperate to leave, desperate to see his friends, feel the comfort of his home, to know his plants are there and will welcome him in a way nothing in this world has.
And yet –
Jaehyun steps off of his land to discuss something with Jungwoo, and Doyoung pushes off his knees and out of the dirt, making sure they’re out of sight and his hands are clean before he pushes back into Jaehyun’s room and finds the old leather bound book again, flicking it open to the back, the newer pages, where the ink hasn’t yet begun to fade from the page.
When the moon is waning, our worlds grow close. I will jump and bring him back with me in the same leap. I promised to keep him safe, and I think I can finally do that.
He is more beautiful up close, his voice quieter, his eyes more radiant. I don’t quite know where to look. He’s angry, but I suspected he would be. I want him to be happy, but maybe that will come later.
Human books talk of kissing, of sex, of intimate things such as embracing and cuddling. Even something that they seem to take for granted, like running fingers through a loved one’s hair sounds so odd to me. I wish to run my hands through Doyoung’s hair, but I would rather not make him uncomfortable.
To have him near doesn’t feel real. He worries me. He’s angry still, and so very sad. I thought he was sad in his own world, but he’s worse here than ever. If I feel so alone in this place, perhaps I was a fool to think he could be happy here.
Jungwoo was correct. It is unfair to lock him away. It is not what she would want for her beloved grandson, no matter how she feared for him. I will keep him safe from a distance then, like I always have.
Having Doyoung here is a comfort I have never known, and I am a selfish creature. I thought for a while that I should keep him for myself, but watching him with the flowers has made me realise that he is at home in his own earth, not mine. His hands were meant to bring life, and that joy is wasted here, on me.
Ten scoffed at me. “Are you in love?” he asked. I replied that I didn’t know what love feels like, and he dropped it. Am I in love? I wouldn’t know. Is love doing anything to keep someone safe and happy? Wanting their smiles, their hope, their contentment, always? If so then yes. Is it yearning for things you do not understand, with a body that is barely your own? If so then yes. Is it being willing to destroy yourself from a distance to ensure their safety? If so then yes. If so, then I am in love.
Jaehyun returns to the house to find Doyoung sat on the couch, hands folded in his lap.
“Hello,” he says slowly, closing the door behind him. “Are you waiting for dinner?”
“I already ate.”
“I see. I’m sorry I didn’t return quickly enough to make you something.”
“You don’t have to serve me, Jaehyun.”
“I know, but I like to make sure you’re well fed and comfortable.”
Lotion for Doyoung’s skin. He likes lavender and honey.
“Come here,” Doyoung says, gesturing to the space beside him. “Sit down.”
Jaehyun frowns but follows the instructions, sitting down gingerly next to Doyoung as if scared to be too close. “Are you alright?”
“I can’t give you much,” Doyoung says, closing his eyes, turning away from Jaehyun’s beauty, his steady presence and calm love. “But I can give you this. I can sing for you.”
“Doyoung, you don’t have to-“
“I know I don’t,” he says, still not looking. He’ll lose his courage if he looks. “I know I don’t have to do anything, you’ve never made me do anything.”
There was a song throughout his childhood, one that sounded sorrowful but spoke of hope, of endless potential, of growth. His grandmother would sing it to him when he was sad, isolated from the children around him with their energetic friends and close relations while he found solace in the flowers. It wasn’t that he hated people, or that he particularly wanted to spend all his time alone, it was just that as a child he’d been odd. Not what other children wanted. Too uptight, too forceful, too rigid. The only time he felt he could be himself was around the flowers and his grandmother, and her song always made Doyoung think of the summers he would spend with her, planting tulips and sunflowers and vegetables and herbs, delighted with every single sprout that emerged from the soil.
He has friends now, a close-knit community that cares for him.
Jaehyun doesn’t have that.
He doesn’t have that, but he can have the song. He can have Doyoung’s comfort.
He sings, eyes closed, hands folded on his lap. It’s nothing more than a children’s rhyme, something simple and easy to remember, but that’s where its power lies. Doyoung could never forget the tune or the words, no matter how many years went by since he last sang it.
His voice is a little too quiet, but it’s been a long time since he sang with any purpose. Jaehyun stays silent, and that helps Doyoung grow stronger, confidence reaching him in warm waves, because it almost feels like he’s alone, singing to himself, or singing to the daisies.
As the song comes to an end, he pictures his grandmother and her wise gaze, looking through Doyoung’s skin, down to his heart. ‘My lonely boy,’ she would say, ‘haven’t you suffered enough?’
He opens his eyes. “Will you look after the flowers?”
He looks to Jaehyun, who is staring at him, tears trailing slow tracks down his smooth cheeks. Doyoung’s throat closes with a grief he’s felt only once before. “When I go back, I don’t want your flowers to die. Will you care for them?”
“Yes,” Jaehyun says thickly. “I’ll care for them.”
“I promise you, Doyoung.”
Doyoung has always been terrible at goodbyes. His last boyfriend, sobbing hysterically when they broke up, had cried harder when Doyoung had stood up stiffly in the cafe, patted his shoulder, and said, “Alright, well, we’re done. I won’t be texting you. Goodbye.”
He’s just – awkward. He doesn’t know what to do with his own emotions, never mind someone else’s. He doesn’t know what to do with the expression Jaehyun wears as he leads him through the dark forest, to a clearing where Jungwoo is sat amongst dead leaves with a serene face turned toward the low afternoon light.
He doesn’t know what to do.
“It’s a wonderful day to jump between worlds, isn’t it?” Jungwoo asks, not opening his eyes. “I may not see the following days, so I’m glad that the skies have been kind to us.”
“How long will you be gone?” Doyoung asks.
“Oh, only as long as it takes to push you through the gap,” Jungwoo replies. “But I’ve never had to take someone with me before, and if it doesn’t cripple my energy, it will at least leave me too exhausted to move for the coming days.” He stands and dusts off his trousers, then smiles at Doyoung. “Ah well, learning is always a curve. Are you ready to go?”
“Yes,” he says, more firmly than he feels.
Jaehyun is silent beside him.
He doesn’t know what to do.
“Thank you for being kind to me,” he says stiffly, not looking. “The whole situation has been less than ideal, but I... I suppose I can understand where you were coming from. I appreciate how you have treated me with respect.”
“You’re welcome,” Jaehyun murmurs. “Please stay safe.”
Why does he feel so torn? So mournful? “Jaehyun, I’d like you to promise me something.”
“Live your life for yourself, not for me or the memory of my grandmother. If she loved you as much as you seem to think, then she would want you to be happy, as she wished me to be happy.”
Jaehyun is silent for a moment. “I’ll try.”
“I promise I’ll try.”
He smiles faintly. “What an incredibly human way to avoiding making an oath.” He looks at Jaehyun one final time, taking in the soft plains of his profile in the light, the fall of his hair, the vulnerable strength of his shoulders. “Goodbye, then.”
Jungwoo steps forward and frames Doyoung’s face with his hands. “Okay, Doyoung, I need you to close your eyes for me.”
He does as he’s told. “Are you going to rob me while I’m not looking?”
Jungwoo’s laughter is a sweet breath against his face. “No, I won’t. I’m sorry if this feels invasive, but I’m really just guessing as to how things work. I’m young, you know? And there’s no manual on how to be me. Can you picture your home for me? Just think about where you live, where you’re happiest.”
He pictures his home, his living room with the half chewed rug, Taeyong curled on the couch, Taeil next to him, Johnny on the floor.
“I’m sorry,” Jungwoo whispers, so close to his face. “I don’t know how to control it, and it feels so scary. I swear you’ll be alright.”
And then the ground is gone, and he’s falling.
He opens his eyes groggily, and he’s staring up at his ceiling. His own living room, his ceiling, with the familiar ratty lampshade and the ugly curtains just at the corner of his vision.
He sits up, and Taeyong walks through from the kitchen with a mug in one hand and his phone pressed to his ear. He sees Doyoung and pauses.
Drops his mug.
“Taeyong!” Doyoung shoots off the couch and rushes forward, pulling him away from the tea on the floor and the shards of porcelain. “Stop screaming, Taeyong!”
“Where have you been?” Taeyong asks, eyes welling up. “We’ve been worried sick!” He pulls his phone back to his ear. “He’s here, he’s home, Taeil, he’s here. Come back; get the others to go home. He’s back.”
“How long have I been gone?” Doyoung asks, dreading the answer.
“It’s three in the afternoon, Doyoung, it’s been almost a whole day!”
He’s been gone for a day.
“I need to sit back down,” he says faintly, staggering a little.
Taeyong makes a dismayed noise and holds onto him tightly, guiding him back to the couch. “Where have you been, Doyoung? This isn’t like you at all! Taeil was so worried; he thought fairies had stolen you away under the waning moon or something!” he pauses. “Though – that’s a nice jumper. And nice trousers, actually. And shoes. Did you go shopping during the night?”
“Can you ask Taeil and Johnny to come over?” Doyoung asks, staring at his potted marigold. Its flowers bounce excitedly, no longer drooping toward the ground. He can feel elation in the air, his succulents and herbs and shrubs all welcoming him home. His body feels full of thoughts not his own, and for the first time in his life it feels invasive rather than warming.
“They’re already on their way.”
“How is the calf?” he asks. Was that a thing that had happened? He can barely remember. It feels like weeks ago, but to him it was weeks ago.
“Fine,” Taeyong says, rubbing Doyoung’s back. “He was born healthy, and he bonded with his mother perfectly. I came home this morning to find Taeil ransacking our house looking for you.”
“I’m sorry for making you worry,” he whispers.
“Can you tell me what happened?”
“It’s a long story,” he says, blinking up at the ceiling in an attempt not to cry.
He’s safe and he’s home and he’s surrounded by people that missed him, though it had been less than a day for them since he’d left.
And Jaehyun is alone again.
Taeil brings his tomes, and once Doyoung has recounted his story, they all take a book and begin flicking through the pages to look for any information about children that spring from the earth or fall from the sky.
There’s no question of – are you sure this really happened?
Doyoung wouldn’t lie about something like this. It’s never been in his character to lie, and he’s not a hysterical person. He’s rational to a fault, so grounded that people always begin to resent his roots when they try and make him move.
Taeil, Taeyong, and Johnny all trust him implicitly.
“He should never have stolen you,” Johnny murmurs, flicking through the pages of an old, ragged book. “But god, I can’t help but pity the guy. His life must be a miserable one.”
“If he wanted Doyoung out of everyone on earth, I pity him too,” Taeil says, smiling slightly when Doyoung scowls up at him from his position on the floor between Taeyong’s knees.
“What was he like?” Taeyong asks. “This creature of the ground. What was he like?”
“He was... calm,” Doyoung says quietly. It’s always the first word that comes to mind when he thinks of Jaehyun. “Calm and gentle. Lonely.”
Taeil snorts. “Sounds like a match made in heaven. Why did you come back?”
Doyoung knows he’s only saying it to mask his terror. The minute he’d walked through the door he’d clung to Doyoung like he’d never let go, then had pushed him away and lectured him with tears shining in his eyes.
And yet –
Why did you come back?
This is his home. This is where he belongs.
Lotion for Doyoung’s skin. He likes lavender and honey.
Jaehyun is too kind for the world he was born into. It feels like he should be here too.
He visits his grandmother the following day, bringing her some roses before walking the worn path to the field behind the graveyard, to the bench he where he always sits.
The daisies wave and twine around his legs like lace.
“Is that you?” Doyoung asks. “Jaehyun?”
The daisies don’t reply.
Doyoung sits there for hours, watching the sun move sluggishly across the arch of the cloudless sky. He strokes the petals of a daisy absentmindedly, wondering if wherever he is, Jaehyun can feel his touch.
“You’re just... not my type,” Yuta says, smiling awkwardly with his perfect teeth. “Seriously, it’s not you, I swear.”
Doyoung shakes his head. “Don’t bother, I don’t want you either.”
Yuta laughs. “Fuck. I mean, that’s refreshing I guess.”
“Have you tried Yukhei?”
Yuta cringes. “Uh. He’s really not my type either. Too loud.”
“And what am I? Too anal?”
“Kind of. Too... not-Sicheng.”
“Ah,” Doyoung says. Sicheng is tall, quiet, and cutting. Doyoung likes him very much. “He doesn’t seem particularly fond of you.”
“Yeah, I’m working on that.”
Yuta raises his glass in a toast. “Thanks. What about you? Since we’re going to be stuck in this corner until the elders realise we won’t work, we might as well chat. Has anyone caught your eye?”
“No one I can have.”
Yuta cringes again and drinks a copious amount of his brandy. “Ohhhh,” he says, some kind of pathetic attempt at comforting, “Don’t say that! I’m sure you’ll settle down with your neat true love and organise seeds together one day.”
Doyoung snorts. “Thank you so much for the confidence boost, Yuta.”
“Anytime, my dude. You want another drink? I want to be thoroughly fucked up by the time I leave this shitty party, and it would be more fun doing it with someone else.”
“Sure,” Doyoung says, too tired to care that it’s out of character. “I’ll have another.”
They leave the party together after midnight, stumbling along against the crowd of other drunkards out in town on a Saturday evening. The amount of people and the volume at which they squawk at each other makes Doyoung cringe, wishing not for the first time that he’d just rejected Taeil’s offer to stay the night.
“You wanna fuck?” Yuta asks as they walk. At Doyoung’s wide eyed stare, he laughs. “No strings, man, just for fun. You’re not my type personality-wise, but you’re pretty hot. So tight under the collar of your shirt, I bet you’re just waiting to be worshipped.”
Has he kissed you yet? Fucked you? Has he told you he needs you, that he’s spent his life trying to care for you? Has he worshipped you like a priest at the altar?
“Sorry,” Doyoung says, “I can’t. It’s not you, it’s just-“
Yuta puts a hand on his shoulder and squeezes. “Don’t apologise, it was just an offer. Let me walk you back to Taeil’s, okay? You look a little sick.”
He doesn’t sleep.
He lies awake and stares at Taeil’s ceiling, listening to the sounds of cars and people outside, and wishes for silence. He wishes for sweet smelling sheets and a steady presence he’d come to find comforting without realising.
“There’s mentions of doorways, but no one seems to know where they are,” Johnny says, flicking through his notes. “They pop up all around the world, apparently, but never in the same place twice. Some people can predict them, though.”
They look to Taeil, who is the only witch they know with powers of prediction. He gets defensive. “Look, I’ve told you before that I can’t choose what I see! You think I’d live the life of a broke college professor if I could predict lottery numbers at will?”
“Maybe my grandmother knew someone that could tell where the doorways would be,” Doyoung mutters, staring down at his own notes. Nothing seems to bring him any closer to understanding.
“What does it matter at this point anyway?” Taeyong asks. He puts a hand over Doyoung’s. “I don’t mean to be cruel when I say that, but... surely you don’t want to go back?”
“No!” Doyoung exclaims. “Of course I don’t want to go back.”
“Then what is making you chase this information down? Some questions just don’t have answers.”
“He shouldn’t be there,” he says. “Jaehyun shouldn’t be there, all alone.”
“So you want to bring him here?” Johnny asks.
“You can’t make a fae human, Doyoung,” Taeil says with pity in his voice. “You can’t change him for this world, they’re selfish to their core, it’s who – it’s what they are. You think he’d want to become mortal to live here?”
“I mean...” Johnny says, raising one brow. “I mean if we find a doorway maybe we can ask him?”
“There’s something here about summoning,” Taeyong says, looking down at his own tome with a frown of concentration. “But it’s not for anything that comes from the earth. Do fae socialise? Could we pass along a message?”
“What would we be summoning?” Taeil asks. “I’m not summoning a dragon to eat my face only for it to not even send the message.”
“I don’t really know,” Taeyong replies slowly. “Apparently you have to... oh ew. You have to throw a deer heart into a lake.”
“Oh fuck,” Doyoung says with endless despair. “Game over, we’re not summoning him.”
“Him? Who is he?” Johnny asks.
“He might eat us.”
Taeil looks at him. “I think if we all went we could fight him off. It depends how badly you want to see your fae.”
“He’s not my fae.”
“It sure sounds like he is.”
“Well?” Taeyong asks. “Would you like to try?”
His marigolds bow.
“Yes,” Doyoung says. “Yes, I’d like to try.”
They reach the lake at midnight, and Taeyong gingerly passes Doyoung the bag with the wrapped heart, his face vaguely green. “This is horrible. I hope the deer didn’t suffer.”
“It’s weird that you can just go to a butcher’s and ask for a deer heart. You’d think it would be a rare thing to ask for, not that they’d just hand it over.” Taeil pulls out his tome and flicks to the marked page. “Okay, so unwrap the heart, wade into the water until it’s roughly knee height, then hold the heart beneath the water until you feel something.”
Dread pools low in Doyoung’s stomach. “He’s going to eat me.”
“We won’t let him eat you,” Taeyong says soothingly. “I’ll stand in the water with you.”
“No!” Doyoung objects. “Then he’d eat both of us! I’ll go alone, and then if I become food at least you guys can spread my legacy or something.”
“If it helps, I haven’t had any visions of any of us being eaten. Or dying at all, actually!” Taeil supplies. “I’m sure we’ll be fine.”
Doyoung unwraps the heart and swallows down the need to vomit at the slimy texture. “Maybe I should become vegetarian.”
“Want me to do it?” Johnny offers. “Like, absolutely nothing could put me off steak. If you need me to do it I don’t mind.”
“It’s fine,” Doyoung says, toeing off his shoes. “It’s fine, I can do this. I can do this.”
“You can do this!” Taeyong cheers. “And we’ll be right here.”
He steps into the water, shuddering against the cold as he takes another step, and then another. The water ripples around him and dread seeps lower as the cold spreads. “Can you guys talk to me please? Just remind me that I’m not here alone and you won’t let me be eaten?”
“Sure!” Taeyong calls. “Doyoung, we won’t let you be eaten!”
“Thanks,” he says faintly. He stares down at the black water, then the heart in his hands. “This better be worth it.”
He lowers the heart beneath the water and squeezes his eyes shut, waiting.
After he’s counted to sixty he opens his eyes and frowns. “I’m so cold. Was all of this seriously for nothing?”
“You look so fucking ridiculous,” Ten’s voice says, and then Doyoung’s being dragged under the water before he has a chance to draw in a breath and scream.
He emerges again with a splutter, wiping water out of his eyes and coughing up the disgusting stale taste as Ten laughs. “You’re such an asshole!”
“An asshole, huh? That’s new. I’ve been called many things, from nightmare to terror to unholy demon, but asshole is definitely new.”
“Uh, Doyoung? You good?” Johnny asks. Doyoung turns to see him holding Taeyong, who appears to have been stopped mid-leap into the water. “He was gonna dive in after you, but I’m glad to see that none of us have to drown.”
Taeil looks awestruck. “We... we actually summoned something? I thought my grandparents were crazy when they said my great uncle was stolen by fae!”
Ten emerges from the water, smiling prettily. “This is my first theft, so consider yourselves blessed.” He looks back to Doyoung and frowns. “Anyway, what do you want?”
“How is Jaehyun?”
Ten snorts. “Really? That’s what you dragged me here for? To ask about Jaehyun?”
“How do you think he is? He keeps you safe and he nurtures those stupid flowers you planted. He doesn’t leave his land.”
“He still keeps me safe?”
“He loves you. Of course he keeps you safe.”
“He loves me,” Doyoung repeats. He’s read it, but he’s never heard it. “He never told me that.”
“Why would he? You acted like you hated him, and he didn’t want your pity. He’s never asked for your sympathy – in fact, I don’t believe he’s ever asked you for anything.”
“You sound like you care for him very much,” Taeyong says softly from the edge of the water. “I’m sure he’s glad to have you as a friend.”
Ten looks at Taeyong, eyes darkening. “Oh, another pretty human that thinks he knows everything, what a surprise.”
“Don’t be a dick,” Johnny says.
Ten’s eyes widen. “Excuse me?”
“He’s being nice to you, there’s no need to be rude.”
Ten laughs, and the sound is so sweet and pure that it almost hurts to hear. “Wow. What a collection you have here, Doyoung.”
“I want to know if there’s a way to bring Jaehyun here,” Doyoung says distinctly. He’s icy cold in the water, but the way Ten’s watching tells Doyoung that he’s waiting for his retreat, which he refuses to give.
“Because he’s lonely. If you can come, surely he can too?”
“He’s got roots, Doyoung. I was made to swim.”
“There’s seriously no way?”
“Why do you want him here anyway? Why do you care?”
“I... “ He stops and considers his words carefully under Ten’s watchful gaze. “I think he needs to be taken care of. He needs to be shown that there are many things to live for, not just one. He’s too gentle to be so isolated and alone.”
“And you’re offering?”
“Yes,” he says. “I am.”
“Do you love him?”
“No,” Doyoung says. “But maybe I could, one day.”
“So pragmatic, so knowledgeable,” Ten says, lying back in the water, staring up at the starry sky. “I miss the good old days when people would just throw their babies into a lake and be done with it. We never had to listen to you mope back then.”
“I know you’re young,” Doyoung snaps. “Don’t try and act tough for the crowd, you’ve told me yourself that you’ve never eaten a human.”
“Ouch,” Ten says, not moving. “Why the fuck would I help you now, huh?”
“So you can help me?”
“For a price.”
“Name it,” Doyoung says, and then immediately regrets it when Ten smiles with all his teeth.
“Name it? If you insist. I’d like a promise from you.”
“A promise of what?”
“Whatever I wish. One day I’ll find you and ask you for something, and you’ll have to give me it. If you don’t, I get your heart.”
“And in return?” Doyoung asks, dread returning. “What will you give me?”
“I’ll tell you how you can bring Jaehyun here. I can take him, you see, but only once. He’d only survive being ripped from the soil once. If he goes with you, he can never return to his world.”
“I promise,” Doyoung says over Taeil and Taeyong’s objections. “I promise.”
“A promise is no small thing to our kind,” Ten murmurs, eyes glinting. “Are you sure?”
“Yes. I swear it.”
“Alright, consider it done.” Ten grabs Doyoung suddenly and presses their lips together, his face icy cold and damp. “It’s sealed.” He pulls back. “I eat the hearts of creatures, but it’s more symbolic than that. Nothing can survive without a heart. If you want Jaehyun to be able to cross with me, I have to take his heart from him, or something of equal value, something he feels he can’t survive without. That’s the only way.”
“Thank you,” Doyoung says. “Thank you, Ten.”
“I’m being entirely selfish, don’t thank me.”
“How do – I need to speak to Jaehyun. How do I get to him?”
Ten shrugs. “I’m no authority on how mortals can move between worlds. I can bring you across, but you definitely wouldn’t survive the journey back with me. No human has the strength for it.”
“What about Jungwoo?”
“What about him?”
“If I come with you and speak to Jaehyun, and you bring Jaehyun back to this world do you think that Jungwoo could take me home again?”
Ten smiles, devilish as he sinks slowly back into the water. “There’s only one way to find out.”
“Doyoung!” Taeil calls. “I swear to god if you disappear on me again-“
Doyoung looks at Ten and feels his heart drop. “Fuck,” he murmurs, throwing caution to the wind. “Take me back.”
Ten’s smile widens. “Hold your breath.”
Vines lock around his legs and he’s dragged beneath the water.
He crawls out of the lake with all of the dignity he can muster through his chattering teeth. “I hate you.”
Ten laughs. “Congratulations.”
The world is still.
There are no stars in the sky, only a still blackness that seems unending. The isolation permeates his skin and sends shivers down his spine. He’s back. “I hate it here. I hate you and I hate this place.”
“You came back of your own free will,” Ten says airily, staying in the lake to watch as Doyoung wrings out of his soaked clothes. “There’s no one to blame this time.”
“Believe me, I’m very aware of my own mistakes,” Doyoung mutters.
“Jaehyun is resting, or he’d have already killed me for bringing you back,” Ten says from the water. Doyoung looks back at him, but his face is tipped toward the moonless sky, eyes closed. “I suggest you go to him before he gets a chance to rip out my heart, because then he really would be stuck here forever.”
“Thank you,” Doyoung says. He means it. For a selfish creature, Ten is oddly generous. He must truly care about Jaehyun.
“You’re welcome. Now leave me alone.”
He stalks his way through the unfriendly forest, no longer scared of the branches, just mildly annoyed when they rip at his clothes and try to trip his legs. Oh how things change when you realise you don’t care about anything anymore.
Eventually he stumbles into the clearing, the field of mist, and Jaehyun’s old, crumbling wall comes into view.
Doyoung pushes open the gate and... stops.
How long had he been here? Weeks, it had felt like, but in reality it has been less than a day.
How long had he been home? Almost a week.
Here, it looks to have been months, because Jaehyun’s house is barely visible.
All Doyoung can see is the flowers.
Lavender first, endless bushes of it making the air smell of sweet comfort, and then honeysuckle climbing the walls, ferns and foxgloves and roses and tulips.
His flowers are blooming everywhere.
Jaehyun must have slaved for this, for this level of growth in a land that inspires nothing but deathly silence. The flowers here sing of devout nurturing.
They sing of love.
Doyoung pushes through the gate and past the reaching flowers, into the house, the door unlocked as always. “Jaehyun,” he says. “Jaehyun, I’m here.”
It takes a moment, but Jaehyun bursts from his room with the most panic Doyoung has ever seen him express. “Doyoung you – how are you here?”
“Do you love me?”
Jaehyun blinks. “I... what?”
“Are you in love with me?”
“Yes,” he says quietly. “Yes, I am.”
“Do you want to kiss me?”
“It’s not pity,” he cuts in, just as quiet. “I’m soaked through and miserable because of that fucking lake water, so I’m not in a particularly sympathetic mood. Do you want to kiss me?”
“Yes,” Jaehyun says, eyes so human, so lost.
“Then come here and kiss me.”
Jaehyun steps forward, ever so slowly. His hands come up, warm and reverent against Doyoung’s face. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure,” he says, basking in the warmth. “I’m sure. I promise.”
Jaehyun presses their lips together, and Doyoung feels the breath leave him in one shaky exhale as Jaehyun’s mouth trembles.
“I want you to promise me something,” Doyoung says against Jaehyun’s lips. He puts his hands on Jaehyun’s broad shoulders, stoking the tips of his fingers up Jaehyun’s soft neck to trace the edge of his jaw. He kisses him again and again, putting all of the emotions he doesn’t know how to speak into the press of their lips, the caress of their tongues, the strength of his hold.
“What?” Jaehyun asks, eyes closed. He licks his lips and squeezes his eyes shut tightly before relaxing them again. “What do you want?”
“I want you to promise you trust me.”
Jaehyun’s eyes open. “Doyoung,” he murmurs, “I promise I trust you.”
“Do you want to be with me?”
“I want you to be safe.”
“Beyond that, do you want to be with me? Do you want to be happy with me?”
Jaehyun looks so childlike at times, so hopelessly dwarfed by the size of the cruel world. “Yes. I want to be happy with you.”
“You have to give Ten your heart for him to be able to bring you home to me,” Doyoung says. “You have to give him what you care about the most.”
Jaehyun’s eyes shutter. “I can’t-“
“I want you to be happy,” Doyoung says. “If you’re happy I’ll be happy too. Doesn’t it sound nice, Jaehyun? We could go home. I could cook you a meal you could taste, we could go for a walk in the fields, and the daisies would love you, they’d care for you as much as I do. We could rest together. You could grow old with me.”
“If I go to your world, I won’t be me anymore,” Jaehyun says desperately. “I’d be mortal. I wouldn’t be able to keep you safe.”
“You’d have to trade your heart for me,” Doyoung says, kissing him again, praying, begging silently. “Do you trust me, Jaheyun?”
A tear leaks from his eye, trailing down his cheek to ghost past Doyoung’s hand. “I trust you. I promise.”
“Do you want to be with me?”
Doyoung kisses him again and lets his own tears fall. “Then once I’ve had a bath, we have a lot of planning to do. You’ll need to fetch Jungwoo and Ten, is that alright?”
“Doyoung, why are you here?”
He smiles ever so slightly. “Because you don’t deserve to be lonely, Jaehyun, and neither do I.”
He wakes up on his couch.
Sits up, exhausted and delirious.
Taeyong is sat opposite him, scowling above the rim of his mug. “At least I knew where you’d end up this time.”
Doyoung groans and rubs his eyes. “What time is it?”
“Two in the morning. Taeil and Johnny are asleep upstairs.”
“Can you wake them for me?”
“Sure, but why? The need rest.”
“We need to go back to the lake.”
“He’s coming,” Doyoung says, stomach tight with nerves. “And he’s terrified. I need to be there.”
Taeyong lowers his coffee slowly. “He’s... he’s coming? Your fae?”
He jumps up. “Why didn’t you say so? Fuck!”
The moon is out and shining when they arrive, the water of the lake completely still.
“How long do we need to wait?” Johnny asks.
“I, uh. Unless there was a corpse here before that we didn’t notice, I think he’s already here,” Taeil says, pointing to the far end of the lake, where someone is face down, the water of the shore lapping at his legs.
“No,” Doyoung says, the word ripped from his throat. He sprints over, falling to his knees to turn Jaehyun over, feeling for a pulse. The relief floods through him when he finds a healthy heartbeat, and he blinks up at the stars. “Thank you,” he whispers. He looks back down, at Jaehyun’s face, no longer inhumanly beautiful, but just... him. He looks the same, but now there’s pores on his face. Faint lines around his eyes. Red in his cheeks as he struggles to blink his eyes open.
“Yeah, it’s me,” he says thickly, grasping tightly at Jaehyun’s hands. “How are you? How do you feel? Are you alright? Are you cold?”
“I can’t feel you anymore,” he says, voice thinned by fear and grief, brimming full of emotions he's never accessed. He sounds like he's still drowning. “I can’t feel your heartbeat, I can’t sense any danger.”
Doyoung takes one of Jaehyun's hands and presses it against the unsteady beating in his own chest. “You’ll have to check for yourself now,” he says, heart pounding against Jaehyun’s palm.
“There’s something else,” Jaehyun says, looking up at him. “This world – it feels so full. The moon and the stars and the people that love you, I can feel all of it. I can taste the water in my mouth. I can hear you speak. It's overwhelming how much I can feel in one moment.”
“I’m so relieved,” Doyoung murmurs, pressing their foreheads together, already thinking ahead to the practicalities of the situation. Does he know how to forge an ID? Absolutely not. The crown of rationality straightens upon his head as he makes mental notes of his tasks for the following days. “You need to go to the hospital for a check over to make sure you’re healthy, is that okay? I’ll stay with you, I won’t leave you. I promise.”
“You promise?” Jaehyun asks. For a second the fear dissipates and leaves his expression serene, devoid of anything but the beauty he's always possessed, surface deep without the gentle soul beneath animating his features, encasing the heart Doyoung knows he's always possessed. Then he smiles, and in the moonlight his face shines like a star. “Doyoung, I can feel the flowers.”