Mark woke up to rumbling on the roof again. With a groan so loud it echoed from the stone walls, he turned on his side and pressed his pillow against his ears. You'd think after years of living like this, he would have gotten used to the noise. Unfortunately, he wasn’t lucky enough to have developed that ability. Also, it was really loud. He wouldn’t be surprised if the tower soon came crumbling down.
No matter how he tried to ignore it, the stomping continued. Mark groaned as loudly and dramatically as he could and sat up with his eyes still squinted closed when a roar loud enough to drown out the stomping made his bed shake where it stood. Years ago, the sound used to make the hairs at the back of his neck stand up. Now it just made him roll his eyes as he pushed the blanket out of his way and stepped onto the cold floor, grimacing at the feeling against his bare feet.
“So childish,” he muttered to himself as he walked over to the only window in the small, circle-shaped room that he’d been living in for the past few years. He pulled open the thick satin curtains, squinting at the early morning light before leaning over the edge to look up. “I’m awake! You can stop now!”
There was a huff before the head of a dragon peeked over the top of the tower where the creature was sitting and creating havoc in. Mark glared at the amber-orange eyes that stared back at him. He had long since learned to recognize the glint of amusement in them. “Why do you have to wake up so early? I haven’t been well-rested since I came here.”
The dragon rolled its eyes and snapped its jaw in a mouthing motion, mocking him. Mark sighed. “Do you want breakfast or not?” He pulled back from the window. “Get down to the ground and I’ll throw you some meat, Haechan.”
So how did Mark, the Lee Prince, end up where he was? It all sounded like a made-up story that old men of the market would amuse the children with. Some absolutely insane storytelling that could only come from the depths of a mind lost to too many a moonshot at the pub. Unfortunately, it was all very real and Mark had to be the one to suffer living through it.
It all started on his fourteenth birthday. He himself didn’t remember much of it, mostly because he was unconscious for the important parts, but he’d heard the story enough times to know how things went down.
It was during his birthday banquet that the doors to the dining hall had burst open and a striking man had stepped in, followed by billowing clouds of black smoke. With his inky black hair, black attire and the crystal embedded rings on his fingers, it was clear as day to even young Mark that the man was a witch and therefore a criminal within their kingdom. Yet, there he was, having made his way through the palace and burst into the ballroom during the Prince’s birthday as if it was his own party that he was celebrating.
To everyone’s — especially Mark’s — mortification, once the smoke had slithered across the floor and reached his feet, Mark had begun to choke on it. That is how he lost his consciousness, with his hands on his own throat and his guards not knowing what to do, whether to try to save him or attack the witch to stop whatever spell he had cast.
When Mark had woken up, he was already in a carriage and on his way to a distant tower in the midst of a forest by the edge of the kingdom. The tower that was to become his new home. He would have surely panicked if he hadn’t had company that instantly reassured him of his safety.
Johnny, a member of the royal guard and Mark’s trusted friend — as much as he could have a friend as a prince — had been sitting on the other side of the carriage, his sword on his lap as he cleaned it with an old rag, even though the metal was already spotless enough to show Mark his own pale reflection as he sat up on the cushions and Johnny gave him a reassuring smile. There was sadness in the corners of his lips, though. Mark had known him long enough to recognize it.
“What happened?” He asked as soon as he found his voice, bringing a hand up to his throat and finding the skin there tender. “My birthday… There was a witch?”
Johnny nodded. “Your birthday has passed, you’ve been unconscious for nearly a day.”
Mark frowned, reaching out to part the curtains that covered the window and peek outside. He didn't recognize the road that they were taking.“Where are we going?”
“Somewhere where you’ll be safe,” Johnny answered, though he didn’t look at Mark as he said it. He was staring down at his sword with a tight set to his jaw. He was worried about something.
“Safe from what?” When the other didn’t answer, Mark found himself growing frustrated. “Please, stop being cryptic and just tell me what happened, Johnny. I know I’m still young, but don’t you think I deserve to know what’s going on? Surely it concerns me if I’m the only one being transported to safety.”
Johnny finally put the rag away, but he didn’t sheathe his sword. “The witch threatened you with a curse.” Mark’s heart fell to his stomach. No, through it. “After you lost consciousness from his magic, he told your parents that if they don’t remove the ban on magic before your eighteenth birthday, he would come and place a curse on you, for he believes that you will reign just as selfishly and unjustly as them.”
Wherever Mark’s heart had fallen into, it formed a knot there and made it hard for him to breathe. A curse… A violent shudder went through Mark’s spine, phantom fingers digging into his spine. Johnny looked at him carefully as he tried to understand his own situation.
After a while, the corners of Mark’s lips turned down. “So they just decided to send me away?” He asked quietly. The ‘instead of lifting the ban’ was left unsaid but Johnny could read it from his expression anyway. “Will that even help? Surely the witch will find out where I am and seek me out when he decides to place this curse on me.”
“We left quietly, in the secret of the night. Just you, me and Jaehyun, who is guiding the horses. The people will be told that you’re being held within the palace for your own safety and if the rumours travel far enough — and surely they will — the witch will believe so as well.”
When Mark stayed quiet, Johnny continued. “Where we’re going, is a place that only a few people know of. An old watchtower by the edge of the kingdom. It hasn’t been used since the War of the Four Seasons and most maps don’t mention it anymore. No one would think to look for you there, even if they knew you weren’t in the palace anymore.”
Swallowing, Mark fought back against the burning behind his eyes. “So I’m just to sit alone in an old tower for the next four years? Just... waiting?”
Johnny’s gaze was sad. Apologetic. “I’m sorry, Mark,” he said. Mark knew he was, from the way he for once used the name Mark had asked him to use ever since he realized he didn’t like to be addressed as superior to his friend. “I wish it could be different, but this is the best way to keep you safe. We can’t go hunting for a witch that manages to disappear in a puff of smoke, leaving no trace behind. One whose whereabouts we have no clue of. This is all we can do for now.”
Mark held back from gritting his teeth. It wasn’t his fault that his parents banned magic, it wasn’t his fault that they thought the people of their kingdom deserved only the bare minimum to survive and during tougher years, not even that. Mark hadn’t agreed with their ways since the first time he’d been paraded around the capitol and what he’d seen all around him had been nothing but longing and pain and anger and sadness.
At six years old he’d wanted to make the people happy and when he’d told this to his parents, they had laughed at him. “Oh you are still so young, Minhyung,” his mother had said to him. “The people serve us , not the other way around. They should strive to make us happy and find their own happiness in ours.”
Mark may have still been young, but he knew his parents were selfish. That they weren’t good rulers. That they would rather send away their own son than change their ridiculous laws.
Johnny and Jaehyun had carried all the things that had been packed for Mark up the two hundred and six steps of the tower and set everything up for him. They made his bed, dusted off the near-empty shelves, set his favourite books down on the small table near the fireplace. Mark watched it all in silence, standing by the only door of the room with a lump in his throat.
“Someone will come to see you you once a week to bring you food and drinks and anything else you ask for," Johnny told him. "It can’t always be us, or otherwise people will start to wonder why we leave the palace so often when we should be protecting the Prince. But we’ll come when we can.”
“Am I allowed to have visitors?" Mark pressed, stepping away when Jaehyun tried to place a hand on his shoulder. He balled his hands into fists. "Other than that, can people visit me?”
Jaehyun sighed. It sounded heavy in the small room. “We don’t know, Mark. We’ll ask the King and Queen and see what we can do for you.”
Mark knew they would. He also knew what his parents would answer. “At least try to convince them to let Taeyong come sometimes. I still need to study, don’t I?”
The goodbyes were brief and Mark felt hollow as the guards closed the door behind themselves. The sound of the lock clicking left an echo in Mark’s ears, one that quickly turned into a headache. He stood by the door long enough for his knees and back to begin to hurt. The coldness of the room felt like it was mocking him, but he didn’t have the energy to set up a fire in the fireplace.
All he could do was dread the next four years of bitter loneliness and the risk of a curse looming over his shoulders.
His first night at the tower was sleepless. Mark kept tossing and turning in his new bed, nightmares filled with black smoke reaching for him and the chime of mocking laughter plaguing the little sleep he managed to catch before he woke up with a startle and the cycle repeated itself. After what felt like an eternity had passed and Mark’s sleepshirt was sticking to his back from cold sweat, he dragged himself out of bed and to the window, pulling the curtains aside.
The sun had barely begun to rise but when Mark inhaled the scent of morning dew, he felt more at peace. The air was much fresher here than back in the city. He was just about to retreat back inside the room and head for his reading table to light a candle and grab himself a book when he spotted something in the dim light of the first rays of the sun.
A big shape was moving behind the treeline, heading straight for the tower. Mark froze as his mind tried to understand what he was looking at. It was too tall to be a bear, too misshapen to be a carriage. When the thing stepped out of the forest and into the clearing surrounding the tower, Mark finally realized what it was and a shocked squeak escaped his mouth before he could muffle it with his hands.
The creature’s head snapped up and Mark found himself locking gazes with a dragon. A full-on live dragon, no kidding. It was just standing there, in Mark’s new yard, as if it owned the place.
Truth be told, it wasn’t as big as Mark had thought dragons were, based on the tales he had heard during his life and the books about the history of their kingdom that Taeyong had made him read. Its body was definitely taller than two horses stacked on top of each other, but it was rather slim.
As the light illuminated the creature properly, Mark couldn’t hold back his awe. The dragon’s scales were a brilliant mix of red, orange and yellow, its wings a sunset that dipped into a golden hue at the tips. It was as if the creature had been born out of the sun and ended up growing into its image.
Mark was brought back from his reverie when the dragon’s amber eyes narrowed and it let out a low growl from its throat before throwing its head back and roaring. It was angry, that was clear.
When it crouched down and prepared to jump, Mark thought he was done for. He scrambled back inside the room, tripping onto the carpet by the bed and falling on his ass with a yelp. In a few seconds, the dragon would rip itself through the tower and either burn him into a crisp or swallow him whole.
But he only saw a flurry of colourful scales pass the window and heard a loud stomp from the roof. Mark’s jaw dropped. Oh. It does own this place.
Mark slowly came to the realization that he was the one who had taken over the dragon’s nest.
His legs trembled where he sat, listening to the sounds that came from above his head as he fisted his hands into the fabric of the thick carpet to keep them from shaking as well. There was a moment of silence, filled with the aftertaste of dread. The dragon had stopped stomping around on the roof. Mark heard his own breath leave his lungs, shaking through his throat.
A shadow blocked the window and when Mark’s head snapped up, he was staring back at a single amber-orange eye, so bright that for a moment he thought that it was on fire. The black pupil was slit just like a snake’s would be and something seemed to be glimmering within it. The eye narrowed as Mark kept staring at it, frozen in place. The dragon had lowered its head from the roof to... scrutinize him through the window.
Swallowing thickly before he got up to his feet, slowly, Mark tried to not make any wrong moves that could set the dragon off and light his whole being with fire. He cleared his throat and fixed the collar of his sleeping shirt, somehow feeling self-conscious about his appearance although he couldn’t imagine why the dragon would mind. “I’m— I—” he stumbled over his words. Was he really going to try and talk to this creature? “I’m sorry, I didn’t know anyone… or anything lived here.”
He felt his cheeks heat up with embarrassment as he clutched his hands together, unable to look away from the single eye that had taken over the view from the window. It was oddly mesmerizing to stare at. The dragon let out a sound akin to a huff before it— Did it just roll its eye at him?
Mark swallowed. “Wait, do you… Do you understand what I’m saying?”
The dragon’s eye moved up and down as if it was nodding outside the window. Mark’s mouth parted in surprise. He’d never heard about dragons that could understand human speech. Not that he knew that much about them in the first place.
“Oh wow… Well, I hope you don’t mind that I’m staying here?" Mark felt like he might have been dreaming this whole thing. His voice had a high pitch when he spoke. "I don’t really have anywhere else to go, I’m,” he paused, shrugging, “hiding, I guess.”
He stayed still as the dragon’s eye seemed to turn curious before it let out a soft breath and its face was gone from the window. Mark could only hope that meant it accepted his presence.
Six days had passed until Mark and the dragon’s somewhat peaceful coexistence was disturbed. Mark was in the middle of reading a book about war strategies and trying to make himself believe he found it interesting when loud noises from outside shook him out of his trance. It sounded like the panicked whinnying of a horse and someone yelling, nearly screaming, incoherently. Just as Mark stood up to walk to the window, a giant shadow passed it and stomped on the ground.
Mark rushed to the window to see a white mare running from the clearing and back into the forest, while the person who had been riding it was sprawled on his back on the ground and gaping at the dragon that was looming over him. One of its feet would have been able to stomp half of his body into the grass.
The dragon growled quietly and Mark leaned forward, squinting to take a better look. Wasn’t that—
He let out a gasp as the person began to crawl towards a sword that he’d probably dropped during their fall. The dragon’s growls got louder as it lifted one of its legs and Mark finally found his voice. “Stop!” He yelled from the window as loud as he could.
The person quit his crawling as his head snapped up to look at the tower. The dragon ceased its growling and turned its head toward him, one foot still in the air, tilting its head as if in question. “That’s my friend,” Mark called out to it, his mind still rearing at the fact that the creature could understand what he was saying, “please don’t hurt him.”
The dragon stared at him for a moment before it set its foot down and let out a puff of air through its nose. It came out smokey. Still, it backed off from the person and curled up on the ground near the tower, eyes tracking the guy’s every moment. Mark watched as his friend got up from the ground and fixed the wrinkles of his clothing, eyeing the creature just as warily as it was eyeing him. Then he looked up at Mark again.
“Geez, Mark, for a moment I thought you were in the belly of that thing.” The dragon flashed its fangs at the word. “A—and that I was about to follow. I have so many questions right now.”
Mark chuckled, scratching at the back of his head. “Uhh… hi, Yuta. Sorry about the horse,” he apologized in place of the dragon. Mark didn’t feel like it was sorry. “And the scare.”
Yuta shrugged. “It’s alright, she’s probably waiting for me within the forest where she feels safe.” His eyes flickered back to the dragon as he grabbed his sword and strapped it back to his belt. “Are you sure you don’t need me to save you from there?”
A wry smile made its way on Mark’s face. He was glad that Yuta probably couldn’t see it properly from the ground. “And take me back to the palace to be in danger from a curse?” The dragon’s short scaly ears twitched. It reminded Mark briefly of the street cats that liked to beg for leftovers by the outer walls of the palace. “No, I don’t need saving. We’re getting along. I think.”
The dragon let out a huff but didn’t protest Mark’s words.
Once Yuta finally entered Mark’s room, huffing and puffing from the effort it took to climb the stairs, he raised his brows at Mark. “How did that even happen? Was it not here when Johnny and Jaehyun brought you?”
Mark shook his head. “I guess it was out hunting for food, or something. But it lives on the roof, and it hasn’t burned me into a crisp yet, so it’s fine, really. Just— warn everyone else who might come here to visit me, please. I don't think it will attack anyone unless provoked.”
Yuta set his bags down on the floor before wiping sweat off his brow, still looking a little unnerved. “Alright, I’ll tell them. But I won’t promise that they’ll believe me before they see it for themselves.”
Mark stared down on the ground where the dragon was lying on the clearing, basking in the midday sun and curled up like a cat, eyes closed and short ears twitching from time to time. He couldn’t help being in awe from the way the sunlight made its scales shine dimly.
Resting his chin on his folded arms over the windowsill, Mark let out a thoughtful hum. “Haechan,” he mumbled to himself. “I think I’m going to call you Haechan.”
On his first full moon in the tower, Mark nearly died of a heart attack. One might think he was exaggerating but they wouldn’t know what it’s like to wake up in a locked room, two hundred and six steps from the ground, to someone shaking them awake by their shoulder.
Mark had woken up with a flinch and promptly screamed loud enough for it to probably echo within the forest and alert every single animal within the first-acre radius of the tower. Later he would be embarrassed enough to curl up into a ball on the ground but right now someone was standing by the side of his bed and laughing at him. Full-on cackling.
“Wh— Wha—” Mark sputtered, his mind still clinging to the last shreds of his dreams even though his heart was racing and his ears were ringing. “Who are you?” He managed to blurt out, scrambling out from beneath the sheets and placing his feet on the floor so that the bed divided him from the intruder in his… his current living arrangement. More importantly, “How did you get here?”
Both the door to Mark’s room and the door at the foot of the tower were locked. The only way inside was through the window.
“Who am I ?” The intruder echoed his question, traces of laughter in his voice. Mark wasn’t sure if he was actually amused or not. “Who are you and why are you living in my tower?”
Mark paused, his feet rooting themselves onto the cold stone floor. “Your… tower…” He mumbled to himself, just as the boy on the other side of the bed took a step back and the moonlight shining through the open curtains set his hair ablaze. No. His hair was orange. Much like— “Haechan?” Mark blurted out before quickly snapping his mouth shut in mortification. “I mean— the dragon?”
The boy laughed again, his shoulders shaking along with it. Briefly, Mark thought that if the sun had a voice and if it could laugh, it would sound just like this. Then he remembered that the other was laughing at him and the fact that he’d given the dragon living at the top of the tower a nickname. The dragon that, apparently, was also a human boy. Mark kind of wanted to go and fall down all two hundred and six steps it took to get to his room.
“Actually, my name is Donghyuck," the boy said, grinning. "But don’t worry, I like the nickname you’ve started using. Haechan." He paused and tilted his head as if tasting the name on his tongue. "It fits quite well. You can keep using it for the dragon form if you want.”
Mark’s throat felt dry. Swallowing didn’t help one bit. “You— How—” he tried to form a question but found himself unable to do so.
“How did I become this way?” The boy — Donghyuck — seemed to understand anyway. “How did the dragon become a boy? Or was there a boy before the dragon?”
When Donghyuck’s sharp eyes snapped to his, Mark found himself nodding. “You… you don’t have to tell me, though. It’s not really my business.”
Donghyuck shrugged. Mark thought he saw a tiny smile on the boy’s lips but it disappeared after he blinked. “I wasn’t born this way,” Donghyuck said softly, his gaze distant as he stared at the canopy of Mark’s bed, tracing it with his eyes as if his past memories were woven into the fabric. “Until three years ago, I was just a boy. Fierce and sharpened on the edges, but very much human nonetheless.”
There was a moment of silence and the dim embers of Donghyuck’s eyes nearly made Mark shiver. He pulled his nightgown tighter around himself, too distracted to be embarrassed by being seen in such a state. “What happened?” He inquired quietly when it seemed like the dragon boy had gotten lost in his memories.
Blinking, Donghyuck turned to meet his gaze and raised a brow. “A curse happened.” Mark’s breath caught in the back of his throat and he struggled not to choke on it. “A witch caught me stealing things from his home. It hadn’t been the first time. So he taught me a lesson, used me as an experiment for some kind of spell.”
A curse... it felt like no matter how far he went or how well he hid, Mark would not be able to escape the dread that word gave him.
Why did you steal? Mark wanted to ask, but he feared that it would make the dragon boy’s claws come out. But he wondered. If Donghyuck was from his kingdom, especially from the outskirts, it would have been a surprise if he didn’t grow up poor. Mark didn’t have the right to question the other about his actions, not when he grew up with more than he could ever need. “How does it work?” He found himself asking instead.
“I get to be human during full moons, and only then," Donghyuck said with a bitter curl to his lips. "The rest of my time I live as a dragon. The most feared creature of all the kingdoms. The most hunted too, although not that much anymore since we barely exist.”
Mark felt a bang of sharp pain in his chest. It sounded so… lonely. “What about your family?”
Donghyuck’s fingers twitched by his sides. “I don’t have one. Mother died when I was a babe, father went to war when I was six and never returned. The neighbours took care of me for as long as they could but I left as soon as I realized I was a burden to them.”
Swallowing past the tightness in his throat, Mark sat down on the edge of his bed and brought his freezing feet up from the ground, tugging them beneath the sheets. “So after you… turned into a dragon?”
“I couldn’t go back to the village like that,” Donghyuck said exactly what Mark had expected, jaw set tight. “I would have either frightened them to death or they would have tried to kill me. So I had to go somewhere where people wouldn’t stumble across me. It took a while, but then I finally found this place.”
Mark stayed silent, picking at the edge of his blanket. He didn’t know what to say, just that there was a dull ache in his chest for the other boy. If I could—
“But why are you here?”
Mark’s head snapped up at the question. Donghyuck had taken a tentative seat on the other side of the bed, the sharp edges of his expression having melted into something more open and vulnerable. His clothes were dirty and way too worn, too short for his limbs. Mark didn’t tell him off for messing up his sheets.
He let out a humourless chuckle and Donghyuck inclined his head in curiosity. His eyes were the exact same burning shade of amber as the dragon’s, but the pupils were rounded and so very human. “Hiding from a curse.”
The other boy’s eyes widened, but he leaned over the bed as if he could see traces of magic on Mark’s skin if he just looked close enough. “A curse? Why?”
“Uhh…" Mark felt his face heat up from the attention. "A witch is threatening to curse me before my eighteenth birthday because my parents refuse to lift the magic ban on the kingdom.”
Donghyuck blinked at him as he processed the words. Then he jumped off the bed and scrambled away until he was nearly back by the window. “W—what? Prince Minhyung?” To Mark’s horrification, he started even bowing. “I—I apologize, I didn’t—”
Mark climbed over to the other side of the bed and rushed to pull the other boy up by his shoulders. Donghyuck tensed at the action so he pulled his hands away. “Yes, that’s me, but please—” Please don’t treat me differently. “Please, you don’t need to bow or speak formally or anything. And call me Mark. I’d prefer it if you called me Mark.”
Donghyuck let out a breath, relaxing a little. Mark held back a frown. Did he think I was going to be mad? “Alright… Pri— uh, Mark.” The other boy paused for a moment before repeating, "...Mark."
“Thank you,” Mark said with a smile. He backed away and sat on the thick carpet next to his bed, patting the place beside him.
It was clear that Donghyuck hesitated, but after a while, he sat down on the other side of the carpet, far enough to be unreachable. Mark tried not to be too upset about it. “That… still doesn’t explain why you’re here,” the dragon boy mumbled, wrapping his arms around his knees and bringing them up to his chest.
Mark swallowed, trying to dig out the bitterness from beneath his fingernails instead of looking at the other boy. His nails were getting too long. Improper, a distorted version of his mother's voice said in his head. “For my safety. My parents aren’t going to lift the ban.”
When he peeked at Donghyuck’s expression, there was a frown on the boy's face. He opened his mouth to speak but was cut off by the growling of his stomach. Mark felt a smile tugging at his lips as Donghyuck’s cheeks turned scarlet. “Sorry.”
Shaking his head to dismiss the apology, Mark let his smile widen. He’d much rather eat than think about these things. “Do you like dumplings?”
On the third full moon that Mark spent in the tower, there were too many clouds in the sky to see it properly. He sat by the window while Donghyuck laid on the carpet and stared up at the ceiling. He was playing with a pine cone, tossing it upwards and then catching it in his hand again. “What are you going to do when you turn eighteen?”
Mark pursed his lips in thought before shrugging one shoulder. The stone wall of the tower was cold behind his back but for once he found comfort in it. “If the witch hasn’t found me by then, I guess I’ll just go back to the palace. If my parents allow it.” Back to the palace, he’d said. The word home hadn’t even come to his mind before he shut his mouth. It tasted like salt on the back of his tongue.
“Aren’t you supposed to be crowned king at that age?" Donghyuck asked, sitting up and frowning at him. "Isn’t that the tradition? Your parents become your advisors?”
Shrugging, Mark tilted his head back. “I’m sure they’ll try to find some way around it. Like I’m not mature enough because I’ve been out here for so long.”
Donghyuck pressed his lips together as he let out a hum, tapping his long, claw-like nails against the ridges of the pine cone.
Watching him, Mark felt an odd sense of peace. “Would you… would you come with me? When I go back?” He felt embarrassed even before he finished asking. They hadn’t known each other for long. This was the third time they interacted when Donghyuck was in his human form. They weren’t even really friends, just two people stuck in the same place for different but oddly similar reasons. Why would Donghyuck want to come with him when the time came? If it were to even come.
Still, Mark didn’t retract his words.
Donghyuck caught the pine cone in midair. There were tiny sparks of fire in his eyes as he chuckled. When he opened his mouth to speak, he averted his gaze to where he'd begun to trail circling patterns onto the carpet. “Your parents hate magic. That hatred most likely extends to magical creatures as well. Don’t you think that as soon as they’d see me, they’d call for my head to be parted from the rest of my body?”
He didn’t immediately dismiss the offer. Mark felt a smile tug at the corners of his lips. He shook his head and Donghyuck watched the movement from the corner of his eye. “I wouldn’t let them.” When Donghyuck didn’t answer, he jokingly added, “You would make a decent guard, don’t you think?”
“Yeah,” Donghyuck threw his head back as he snorted. It clearly wasn’t meant to be endearing, but Mark found it to be anyway. “Until the full moon hits and anyone could slip past me to slit your throat.”
“Don’t be so sure of it,” Mark countered, raising a brow. “Even as a human, you’re a little bit terrifying. Those are not normal teeth you have there, Donghyuck. I think they could still bite through bone. At least small ones.”
Donghyuck grinned. “Is Your Highness afraid of me?” His fingers pulled at a frayed edge of the carpet, eyes cast down.
Even though he knew the other wasn’t looking, Mark shook his head softly. “No, I’m not. Sorry to disappoint.”
The dragon boy glanced at him below his lashes, one brow raised in curiosity. When Mark’s smile didn’t waver, a faint tension in his shoulders relaxed and a smile of its own made its way to his face, softening the corners of his eyes. “Hmm. I’m glad.”
Mark was sixteen when he woke up on his bed with an odd but comforting warmth plastered against his back. Still half-asleep, he realized that there was something wrapped around his waist. Slow and steady breaths washed over the back of his neck, on the border of tickling but never quite crossing it.
Blinking his eyes open to the faint glow of the moonlight, he turned around and was met with a mop of orange hair and a sleeping dragon boy curled into himself beneath the sheets. Mark stared for a moment, tracing the unnaturally sharp point of Donghyuck's ear with his eyes before it hit him. The full moon. Human time. Limited human time to actually converse with his best friend without having to make an educated guess what his motions meant when he was a near full-grown dragon instead.
When Mark shook him by the shoulder, Donghyuck’s calm breaths stopped and he groaned almost instantly, blindly reaching out to push his hand away before curling up even more, the top of his head pressing against Mark’s ribcage.
“It’s the full moon,” Mark said like a fool. As if Donghyuck wouldn’t know that. “Why didn’t you wake me?”
Donghyuck let out a sleepy hum and spoke into his shirt. “You looked so peaceful with whatever dreams you were having, it made me sleepy too.”
Mark attempted a huff, but it sounded more like a fond sigh. He nudged Donghyuck until the other rolled away from him and onto his back, eyes squinted and lips forming into a pout. “I thought I was supposed to teach you how to write?” Mark accused playfully.
“Ugh.” Donghyuck crossed his arms over his chest. “You princes and your royal customs, why do I have to learn them?” He had asked Mark to teach him. “I can already write the most important stuff, anyway.”
It was too difficult to fight against the grin that wanted to take over his face, so Mark didn’t. The embers in Donghyuck’s gaze turned into a small flame at the sight. “You’ve only learned our names.”
Donghyuck curled in closer again, one of his bare feet pushing against Mark’s thigh to urge him to lie back down. “As I said. The less important stuff can wait for another time. Tell me about the gardens again.”
During the years of living confined into a single room atop a tower and coexisting with a dragon who was a boy but only when the moon was full, surprisingly many people came across their safe haven. Nearly once every three months, it was almost like clockwork. Most of them were lone travellers, knights or wanderers. Once a bandit, even.
Very understandably, a lot of them ran away as soon as they spotted Haechan, their screams and yells still echoing in the clearing even after they had run off and disappeared back into the forest. Thankfully, none of them sent forth people to hunt Haechan down. Either they didn’t dare to speak about their experience or no one believed them, Mark didn’t really care as long as they were safe.
The people that stumbled to their home were harmless, usually. Only once there was a female archer who nearly blinded Haechan’s left eye before Mark managed to convince her to stop. It was a day before a full moon and that night, Donghyuck, in his human form, had had a nasty scratch down the bridge of his nose. It was gone by the next one, though.
Some of the people left lasting impressions on them, something that Mark and Donghyuck would joke and laugh about during full moons while stuffing their bellies with fruits and bread.
One of them was a young, freshly knighted man who Mark thought was named Yangyang. He wasn’t sure if he remembered correctly. The guy had been surprisingly brave and entirely too reckless, but he thankfully hadn’t attempted to fight Haechan at all and instead focused on ‘saving’ Mark. He managed to break the door at the bottom of the tower before he finally listened to what Mark was yelling at him and Haechan caught him by the cape, dangling him from his mouth like a mother cat with her kitten. Mark still remembered the blank look on Johnny’s face when he’d tried to tell his friend what on earth happened to the door.
Then there was Kunhang. That knight had the exact opposite approach to the situation than Yangyang. He’d gone straight for Haechan and actually somehow found his way onto the dragon’s back and tried to ‘tame’ him by grabbing onto his horns, calling himself a mighty dragon trainer. Needless to say, Haechan had not been amused. Kunhang had ended up headbutting a tree after too many shakes of Haechan’s head. Good thing he was wearing a helmet.
The full moon after laughing about this disaster, Mark had woken up without eyebrows and a vague odour of burned hair lingering in the room.
At the end of the day, even though it was mostly amusing when other people intruded upon their secret little world, Mark and Donghyuck still preferred it when it was just them. It felt more timeless that way. Like it could last forever.
Taeyong had a pleased smile on his face as he read through the reports Mark had written since his last visit. “You’ve improved well. These are really good,” he said before turning to where Mark was sitting and raising a brow. “Although your writing is still crooked.”
Mark resisted the urge to pout like a child. Somehow, Taeyong always managed to bring that out of him. “It’s getting better,” he muttered.
The answering hum did neither agree or disagree with his words. Taeyong stepped closer to the table and spotted a sheet of paper beneath a stack of books, carefully pulling it out without making them topple over. “What is this?”
Mark felt his cheeks heating up. “Oh, that’s… I’ve been trying to teach Donghyuck how to write.” All his friends knew about the boy that replaced the dragon during full moons. None of them had met him in that form, but they believed Mark’s words.
Taeyong’s lips pulled up into a grin. “With your penmanship, I’m a little worried about how that will turn out.”
This time, Mark did pout. “Hey! He’s doing well. At least, well, with writing our names.”
After Taeyong stopped laughing at him, they discussed the state of the palace, of the most interesting cases from court that had happened since their last meeting.
At a moment of comfortable silence, Mark found himself swallowing tight. “Taeyong?”
“The witch that wants to curse me.” Taeyong’s shoulders stiffened, but he nodded at Mark to continue. “Do you know who he was?”
His teacher took a moment to think, crossing his hands behind his back and reminding Mark of the tedious days in his childhood that were spent on learning the perfect posture. For standing, for sitting, for pretending to lounge. He stayed quiet, holding back from balling his hands into fists. Taeyong’s hesitation must have meant that he knew at least something.
Finally, Taeyong let out a long breath before meeting Mark’s eyes. “Yes, I know who he is.”
“Will you tell me?”
Letting out a sigh, Taeyong nodded. “He’s a powerful and quite well-known witch, even beyond the borders of our kingdom, though no one actually knows where he resides. The rumours span from a mountain cave to a base underneath the surface of a deep forest lake.” Taeyong walked over to the window and looked down where Johnny was waiting with the carriage so they could start heading home as soon as the sun began to set. The royal guard was talking to the dragon that was curled up nearby, but Taeyong couldn’t hear the one-sided conversation.
“This witch isn’t someone to underestimate without ill consequences,” he continued. “That’s why your parents sent you away.” Taeyong turned his head and looked at Mark over his shoulder. “His name is Ten.”
Mark’s heart stumbled over a beat before it started racing so fast it sent a shudder down his spine. His mind went back on a conversation many full moons ago:
“It’s not like I wanted to steal,” Donghyuck said, sprawling on his stomach on the bed next to him after dressing into the new clean clothes Mark had offered him. “But I had to do something to survive, you know?” Mark didn’t, because he had never been in that kind of situation. He stayed quiet, knowing full well that Donghyuck was aware of that. “The people of the village were generous, but they could only feed us once in a while, it wasn’t like anyone was rich enough to have food that they themselves didn’t need.”
Mark stared at the side of Donghyuck’s face, wanting to reach out and touch but knowing it would distract the other from his memories and stop him from finishing the story. And Mark wanted to know. He wanted to know everything that Donghyuck felt like sharing with him. His chest burned with a mantra of: ‘I want to change things, I want to change things, I have to change things’.
“I was one of the oldest so it felt like a responsibility to take care of the younger ones as much as I could. So when I found the cottage in the forest and no one was there, I thought that a person with that many weird little trinkets wouldn’t miss a few things. At least not as much as we needed them. And since I didn’t get caught, I kept going back. Until I did get caught. Apparently, Ten was very fond of his stuff.”
Mark frowned. “...Ten?”
“Huh?” Donghyuck blinked, coming back from his memories and flopping on his side to face Mark. “Oh, yeah. Ten was the name of the witch who cursed me.”
“Mark?” Taeyong called his name. Mark clasped his hands on his lap when he realized that they were shaking.
“I— uhh,” Mark trailed off, his mind moving faster than he had the ability to process. Taeyong frowned so he was quick to find his voice again. “Thank you for telling me.”
The frown deepened, but Taeyong only nodded and turned back to the window without a word.
Mark needed to find him.
Mark wasn’t sure when things changed. When the bloomed flower of friendship shed its petals and grew new ones, petals that were vivid and luscious, feeding on the droplets of a first love. Mark wasn’t sure when the change happened, but it felt natural and he wasn’t scared of it.
When he looked at Donghyuck in his human form at the fresh age of sixteen, the realization came to him within the moment it took to blink his eyes. During that time, less than a second that somehow felt longer than the years he’d spent in their tower, the darkness that covered his gaze and hid the other boy from his view made his heart shiver and grow cold at the loss.
Once he opened his eyes again, he saw Donghyuck anew. That boy with the soul of a dragon, dragon with the heart of a boy. He was already gazing back at Mark with the same tender and curious emotion that echoed beneath Mark’s ribcage. The heat of his gaze could have burned down a continent, but at that moment Mark became certain that the flames that were to lick him would only ever be gentle. His skin would only be marred if he asked for it.
It was inevitable that he would, one day.
But for now, his eyes flickered down to sunkissed lips before snapping back up, a flush crawling up his neck and curving around his throat, leaving nothing but tingles behind. Donghyuck smirked, a playful crackle in his bonfire eyes. As if he knew exactly what Mark was thinking. He definitely did.
Pushing himself away from his place of lounging against the wall, Donghyuck leaned closer to where Mark sat next to him and cupped his cheek. The warmth emanating from his body felt so intoxicating that Mark had to focus not to let his eyes flutter shut and instead watch the boy in front of him, the way the moonlight shining in through the window lit his orange hair in a cold fire. “Is this okay?” Donghyuck asked, his thumb brushing over Mark’s cheekbone and sending a shiver down his spine.
“Yeah,” he answered, voice breaking into a whisper. He tugged Donghyuck closer by the elbow until the subtle scent of smoke and wildflowers filled all his senses with the mantra of Donghyuck, Donghyuck, Donghyuck. Their noses brushed together and Mark felt like he was standing in front of a forest fire.
The first press of lips was so soft that Mark barely felt it. He remembered childhood memories of playing with the ballroom candles under the watchful eye of his nanny. The thrill of running his finger through the flame with his heartbeat kicking in his chest. Watching it flicker and kiss his skin, waiting for the pain that never came. He was scared to push the limits, never having the courage to do it more than once before running back to whatever play the candles had distracted him from.
Now, he wanted nothing more than to push the limits, to knock the whole array of candles over and watch as the wax dripped onto the marbled floor and the flames ate up the gilded cloth covering the table before moving onto the curtains. So he brought his hand up to grasp the side of Donghyuck's jaw and pulled him in, closer, revelling in the gasp pressed against his mouth as the other boy melted into the embrace. A low sound came from his throat, one that almost resembled a purr. It made Mark’s scalp tingle.
Red bloomed on Donghyuck’s cheeks when he pulled away, nearly the same hue as the scales on the back of his dragon form’s neck. Mark barely restrained himself from pressing his lips against them, just to know what the taste of dawn was. “What are they going to do to me once they find out I stole the beloved Prince’s first kiss?” Donghyuck whispered, gaze flickering across Mark’s face like he was trying to brand it into his memory.
Unable to control himself, Mark kissed the boy’s flaming cheek. Then the other. Then his forehead and the tip of his nose, until his face burned even more radiantly. Turned out that dawn tasted a lot like his new home. “They’re going to make a prince out of you, too.”
The brightness of Donghyuck’s smile outdid the sun. Mark’s heart was soft and so very fond, so much so that the ache was borderline painful. That night, he let Donghyuck hold it in his claws and swallow it whole. Ever since then, it had been warmed within the pits of the dragon boy’s belly and protected by scales that couldn't always be seen.
No, Mark was never afraid of loving Donghyuck. It was the easiest thing in the world.
Mark was feeding Haechan a piece of cold meat through the window when the dragon’s short ears twitched and he turned his head towards the forest. Ah… someone was coming. Mark sighed, preparing himself for a yet another encounter where he had to yell for ears that were unwilling to listen before Haechan made them. Usually by holding the people down with his claws or hanging them from his mouth and presenting them at Mark like a cat eager to please its owner.
The person that stepped into the clearing could instantly be recognized as a knight. They were wearing full armour and even the visor of their helmet was down, making it harder for Mark to tell anything about them. There was no sigil on sight so he had to assume the person was a roaming knight, not openly serving under anyone.
Haechan straightened up from where he was leaning down from the roof, the movement causing a sound that made the knight’s head snap up. They did what anyone would have done in a similar situation, at least anyone brave enough. They pulled out their sword.
Mark braced his hands against the windowsill and readied himself for having a hoarse throat for the next day or two. “Stop!”
The most magical thing happened. The knight actually stopped. They paused with their sword still in the air, their head turning just a little bit as if they’d only now noticed his presence. Which wasn’t very unlikely since he tended to get overshadowed by the very obvious dragon that he lived with.
“The dragon isn’t going to hurt you. Please don’t try to fight it,” Mark continued, relieved that someone was actually listening to him from the beginning for once.
The knight slowly lowered their sword, shifting out of a fighting stance. They seemed oddly calm compared to all the other ones that had seen Haechan. Mark briefly wondered if the knight had seen a dragon before, but that must have been unlikely. Mark heard the person clear their throat behind the visor of their helmet. “Are you in need of… assistance?”
Mark chuckled and heard Haechan make a similar sound up on the roof. “No, I do not. I’m staying here at my own volition.” Mostly, kind of. But he didn’t need nor want to leave.
Seemed taken aback by something, the knight took a step back before reaching up to pull their helmet off. Behind it was the gentle face of a man with chestnut brown hair. “Prince Minhyung?”
“I… yes?” Mark blinked. He couldn’t see the man’s face well enough to determine if he was familiar to him or not. “Do I know you from somewhere, sir?”
“Ah,” the knight sounded a little abashed, propping his helmet underneath his arm. “It has been several years since we met, Your Highness. You were still very young so it might have slipped your memory.” He bent into a full bow before straightening up. “My name is Qian Kun and I spent a few months in your palace for training when Your Highness was eleven years of age.”
Huh. Mark frowned, thinking back to his memories of the palace. They felt a little out of his grasp these days. He remembered, of course, but they felt distant, that’s all. He couldn’t recognize the name but he did recall a teenager with the same colour of hair as the knight, and similar features as well. A distant voice told him to raise his elbow. “You… You guided me when I was practising archery?”
A bright smile made its way on Kun’s face. “I’m honoured that Your Highness has retained some memories of me.”
Mark’s shoulders hiked up and he pressed his lips together. It felt odd to be addressed so formally after so many years. He found that he didn’t miss it one bit, but that it rather made something uncomfortable crawl down his spine. “Please, Sir Qian, just call me Mark. I’d much prefer if there were no formalities.”
“Alright, if that’s what you want. You may call me Kun as well, then.”
The roof rumbled when Haechan shifted. Mark looked up to see the dragon’s head peeking out as he sniffled the air before looking down, eyes shifting between Mark and Kun. A low rumble came from his throat and Mark frowned. He didn’t understand what the other was trying to say, just that it was something about the knight.
Mark focused back on the man on the ground, who looked even more confused than he was. But as Mark looked closer, he noticed that Kun was leaning most of his weight on his left foot, though he tried to hide it. Whether it was on purpose or not, Mark wasn’t sure. “Are you injured?” He asked the knight.
Kun seemed surprised by the question, looking down at himself before looking back up. “Oh! It’s not too bad, don’t worry. I merely twisted my ankle while chasing a bandit. It will heal on its own within a few days.”
Frowning, Mark stepped back from the window. “I’ll be right back.”
He walked over to a basket by the table and rummaged through it until he found a familiar green jar and took it in his hands. Taeyong had given it to him during his first visit, telling him to use the salve inside in case he got himself hurt. Mark had accepted it with a smile, even though the thought of him needing it was a little funny. How could he hurt himself locked in a small room like this? By falling off the bed? Somehow dropping a heavy book on his head?
Mark went back to the window and called for Haechan to lean down towards him. When the dragon did so, Mark held up the jar in his hands. “Can you take this down to him?”
Haechan stared at the jar curiously before opening his mouth, showing two rows of impressively sharp teeth. Mark held back from scrunching his nose at the smell of the dragon’s breath. He carefully placed the jar on the tip of Haechan’s tongue before watching as the dragon closed his mouth and gracefully jumped to the ground.
Kun, surprisingly, didn’t seem scared as Haechan stepped towards him. Even though Mark had told him Haechan wouldn’t do any harm, Mark had expected the knight to feel at least a little unnerved to be approached by a creature of that size. One that could breathe fire at that. Yet, Kun gave Haechan a tentative smile as the dragon bent down and carefully dropped the jar on the ground a few feet away from Kun’s feet.
When the knight crouched to pick it up, uncaring of the dragon saliva that now coated it, Mark cleared his throat. “That salve should help to heal your injury much faster.”
Haechan curled up on the ground near the base of the tower as Kun inspected the jar with wide eyes. “This is… Your Hig— Mark, I can’t possibly accept this! You should keep this for yourself.”
“I don’t have any need for it, it’s been gathering dust up here for a long time.”
Kun let out a long breath before bowing his head. “Thank you. Please tell me if there’s any way for me to repay you.”
“There’s no need,” Mark answered quickly. Then he paused. He was quite positive he could trust Kun. “Actually,” he spoke up again, “could I ask you for a favour?”
“Have you ever heard of a witch named Ten?”
Haechan’s head snapped up to stare at Mark and he rose from the ground, shaking his wings. There was a clear question in his eyes. What are you doing? Shifting his gaze back to Kun, Mark held in a breath. The knight looked shocked, more than Mark had expected. Maybe it was because he was a prince whose parents put a ban on magic yet he was asking about a witch almost casually.
After a moment of hesitation, Kun nodded. “Yes, I have heard of him.”
Mark took in a deep breath, ignoring the burn of Haechan’s intense gaze on him. “Can you find him for me?”
Even when he was expecting it, Mark flinched when Donghyuck growled, as did Kun. The knight eyed the dragon for a few seconds, his expression unreadable. When he met Mark’s gaze again, he nodded. “Yes, I can find him for you.”
It was dizzying, the way Mark’s shoulders relaxed but his heart started a rabid beat in his chest. It didn’t take long for Kun to depart with a promise to come back with the witch and Mark wishing him good luck.
Haechan’s silence was even more terrifying than his growl. Mark sighed. The next full moon would not be a peaceful one.
“Why would you want to find Ten?” Donghyuck’s yell was so loud that a flock of birds took flight from the trees outside. “He’s not a good person, he won’t help you against the witch who wants to do you harm.”
Mark sighed, holding the other’s furious gaze even though it made his throat burn. “They’re the same person.”
Confusion made Donghyuck pause and frown. “What?”
“The name of the witch who threatened to curse me on my fourteenth birthday was Ten. Taeyong told me.”
Donghyuck’s eyes widened and he stumbled backwards, face paling. But after the shock melted away, he was even more furious. “What were you thinking? Seeking him out like this, it’s like you’re asking to be cursed!”
“We have to sort this thing out, one way or the other,” Mark said, keeping his voice low. He didn’t want to yell at Donghyuck and the other’s anger was kind of justified. “Ten is probably already on his way to find me. I really don’t think this tower has ever kept me hidden from him. He’s supposed to be one of the most powerful witches in all the lands.”
“How are you planning to mediate with him, huh? By letting him curse you? By talking ? He doesn’t do talking, Mark! He doesn’t care what you have to say for yourself.” Donghyuck took in a shaky inhale. There were tears in his eyes and Mark’s determination almost faltered at the sight. Almost. “I would know.”
Mark opened his mouth but closed it again to prevent blurting out the words, ‘It won’t hurt to try’. It could very much hurt to try. It could kill him to try. He swallowed, but his voice was still scratchy when he finally spoke, averting his eyes from the wildfire in Donghyuck’s gaze. “I have to try.”
“Why? Why does it have to be you?” Donghyuck’s voice cracked when he gripped Mark’s arms so tightly that his shirt was almost tearing. “This is your parents’ mess! Why do you have to risk yourself to clean it up?”
“A good ruler shouldn’t be afraid to sacrifice themself.” And because I can be selfish just like my parents. I’m not only doing this for peace.
Donghyuck pressed his lips together tightly, the fire in his eyes slowly dying out. He knew Mark wasn’t going to change his mind. It was too late now, anyway. Mark’s heart felt heavy when the other pulled him into a hug. “Sometimes I hate the fact that you’re a prince,” Donghyuck said quietly by his ear.
Mark let out a hum. Sometimes I hate the fact that you’re cursed to be stuck in a form you both love and loathe.
Mark’s head snapped up from his book as he heard sharp whistling outside. He set it down before walking over to the window and peeking out. At the edge of the clearing stood a familiar knight in his gleaming armour, side by side with a hooded person whose mere silhouette made the back of Mark’s neck prickle.
Kun was back. There was no doubt that it was the witch, Ten, standing beside him. It was two days before Mark’s eighteenth birthday. Things could go very wrong and he could easily end up cursed with who knows what. Mark took in a deep breath. Even with the risks, he was going to do this.
Just as he was about to call out, the roof rumbled and a few seconds later a warning roar made dust settle down from the ceiling. Mark held back a sigh as his eyes flickered to the still very much locked door of his room. “Haechan,” he said softly, only loud enough that he knew the dragon could hear him. The sounds of movement stilled. “Get down and help me out of here, would you?”
There was a confused noise before wings rustled as Haechan leapt down from the tower and shook the ground with the force of his descent. Kun staggered back a little, but the witch seemed unaffected. Haechan took a moment to bare his teeth and snap his jaws at the pair, the threat likely only reserved for Ten, before he turned around and tilted his head at Mark, a clear question. What do you mean help you out of there?
“Lean up and help me down.”
The dragon took a step back and brought his head as high as his neck could give, almost like he was offended by Mark’s words, before shaking his head twice. No way.
Mark raised his brows before huffing and pulling one of his knees up, leaning out of the open window a little more as he stuck it out. He heard Kun’s shocked yelp before Haechan nearly barked and rose on his hind legs to lean against the tower and reach for Mark. His eyes were wide and unmoving so Mark gave him a reassuring smile. It did nothing to take away the expression on the dragon’s face that clearly yelled, What on earth are you doing?
Without bothering to explain — because it was pretty obvious — Mark sat on the windowsill and brought his other leg to dangle outside as well. He let out a gasp as he leaned too far and almost slipped. A quiet whining sound came from the dragon, even though his mouth was closed. Be careful. Mark chuckled, but his heart was beating so strongly that he felt like he could almost see it through his shirt. “Don’t be so worried. You wouldn’t let me fall, would you?”
Haechan’s eyes narrowed, but he didn’t protest. Gripping onto the stone as hard as he could, Mark took in a deep breath as he sat outside of the window and prepared to jump. Haechan was tall when he leaned on the tower like this, but it was still a drop of a few meters to reach his head.
“Alright,” Mark said, a little too loudly but at least his voice didn’t waver. He wasn’t afraid of heights like Donghyuck was — the reason why even as a dragon he didn’t enjoy flying — but he still felt like there was a swarm of bees in his belly. “On three.”
The dragon gave him a small nod, the slit of his pupils turning even more narrow in concentration. Mark took the count and let himself drop, letting out an embarrassing yelp as he landed on Haechan’s forehead and stumbled a little until he was able to grab onto a small, red horn and steady himself before shifting to sit down so that his feet rested against the bridge of the dragon's nose and weren’t at risk of kicking him in the eye.
The scales felt rougher than he remembered, only having gotten to touch them a handful of times through the window while Haechan leaned down from the roof. But the familiar warmth was there so Mark swallowed against the pounding of his own heartbeat in his ears. “I’m good. Thank you, Haechan.”
The dragon let out a huff, thin veils of smoke escaping from his nose, before he slowly lowered himself down on the ground on his fours, careful not to jostle his head and send Mark flying. Then he went on to bow his head towards the ground until Mark could safely hop down and pat his snout with a grin. Haechan still looked a little irritated and a lot wary about their… guests, but he leaned into the touch anyway.
Mark jumped at the voice, remembering what he had wanted to get down for in the first place. He willed himself to stop marvelling how different Haechan looked from this point of view and instead turned to face Kun and his cloaked companion. Even with the light of the evening sun, Mark was unable to see beneath the shadows of the dark hood. He still felt the eyes that were on him. He smiled at Kun, hoping that too much of his nervousness didn’t bleed into the gesture. “Please, just call me Mark like last time. I’m not even in court at the moment, haven’t been for years.”
Kun’s brow twitched before he returned the smile, a genuine friendly light in his eyes. Mark had felt it even up from his window, but it was stronger this close. “Right... Mark. I found Ten for you, as you asked.” He gave a glance at the witch on his side, one that was surprisingly playful. “It turned out to be much easier than I expected.”
There was a huff below the hood before the figure stepped closer. Two things happened at once. Haechan let out a threatening growl from his throat as he lowered his head next to where Mark stood, his tail curling around Mark’s waist once before the tip of it settled around his shoulders like a domesticated but lethal snake. The witch pulled down his hood.
Mark wasn’t sure what he had expected. He didn’t remember the face of the man that had threatened him on his fourteenth birthday. He only remembered the black smoke and the feeling of choking. But the man beneath the hood looked rather… ordinary. His hair was short and black, clipped close to his temples. His eyes looked normal too, if not for being a little too dark and shaped like a feline’s.
The Prince had grown up surrounded by stories about magic users and how the dark powers that they used would start eating away their bodies, slowly turning them into something akin to demons. He’d long realized he shouldn’t take everything he heard within the walls of the palace seriously, for it was all tailored by the image his parents wanted to set. Yet somehow, he had expected at least something concrete that would set the witch apart from non-magical folks.
Haechan’s growling turned louder, his tail curling tighter around Mark. It felt oddly comforting, but it wasn’t really necessary. At least Mark hoped it wasn’t. He reached out to pat Haechan on the curl of his jaw. “It’s alright.”
The dragon sent him a glare, but it didn’t hold any of the fire that it did when it was aimed at the witch in front of them. The growling subdued, if only just a little. The witch laughed at this, the sleeve of his cloak sliding down and exposing dark markings against pale skin as he brought a hand to his chest. “Oh, hello Donghyuck!” The laughter melted and gave way to a sharp grin that made the hairs at the back of Mark’s neck rise. “I see you went and became the prince’s pet dragon.”
Mark’s mouth twitched into a frown while Haechan let out a huff through his nose, pillars of smoke rising from his nostrils, a clear threat of the flames he held in his belly. “He’s not a pet,” Mark said, his hand continuing to soothe the dragon. It looked like Haechan was seconds away from bouncing on the witch and that was not what needed to happen right now.
The witch scoffed, his gaze flickering to Mark. It was clear he wasn’t trying to hide his disdain. Mark tried his best not to get affected by it. Ten didn’t know him, he just knew what his parents were like. “Kunnie here tells me that you’re a... good person, Prince Minhyung.” The witch’s voice was laced with doubt as he gave him a thorough look. Mark fidgeted under the scrutiny. He knew his hair was longer than what was approved of a prince and his clothes had seen better days. He didn’t really look like the image of a future king at the moment.
But maybe that was a good thing.
Kun’s eyes travelled between Ten and Mark, his expression a little confused. For a brief moment, Mark wondered why the witch had called the night ‘Kunnie’, but then he let out a sigh and focused back on the jest thrown at him. “It’s Mark. Please, just call me Mark. And I’m glad sir Qian thinks so highly of me after such a short meeting, but really, I’m just trying my best.”
Haechan let out a huff before the tip of his tail nudged Mark’s chin up. He could almost hear Donghyuck’s voice echo in his head. Don’t be so humble. The tips of his ears burned.
Ten raised his brows, taken aback for a moment before he schooled his expression. “Well, I assume you told Kun to seek me out because you wanted to get on your knees and beg me not to curse you to an early grave?”
When Haechan snapped his jaws, a puff of hot air blew into Mark’s face. He knew that the other, of course, would never bring him harm but being reminded of the sheer power Haechan had made Mark’s breath hitch just a little. He shook his head, both to himself and to Haechan. Alright. This was it.
Mark set his jaw as he turned to Ten, as much as Haechan let him with the leash he had turned his tail into. “No,” he said and promptly ignored the confused noises from the three beings that were looking at him. He held Ten’s gaze as he continued, “I actually wanted to ask you if you could… alter or maybe weaken Donghyuck’s curse? I don’t know much about how magic works but you must know what I mean.”
The quiet growling that Haechan had been doing ever since he helped Mark down had cut off completely and the dragon beside him had gone still. From the corner of his eye, he could see that the amber eye facing him was full of shock. He swallowed as Ten tilted his head to the side, as if curious. “I’m willing to give you whatever you want,” Mark blurted out, ignoring the tail that tightened around him, “Just— give him more time to be human. He deserves that.” And so much more.
He deserves everything.
Ten let out a hum, crossing his arms over his chest. The coldness of his gaze had given way for something else that Mark couldn’t identify. “You’d be willing to give anything ?” He asked quietly, flinching but not shifting out of reach when Kun stepped closer and placed a hand on his elbow.
Mark nodded. “Anything that I can.”
He would have staggered over if it weren’t for the tail still wrapped around him, when Haechan pressed his head against his side, a low whine coming from his throat. Mark reached up to pet his snout, forcing a smile on his lips at the sad eyes the dragon was giving him. He willed himself to not think about what the other was trying to say.
“Would you even take a curse? For him?”
“Chittaph—” Kun snapped his jaw shut when the witch glared at him.
“Would you?” Ten pressed.
Mark didn’t even need a moment to think it over. “Of course I would.”
A smile bloomed on Ten’s face. This time, Mark felt like it might have been genuine. “Alright, I’ll do it.”
Mark blinked. “Wait— You’ll do it?”
“Yes. I can’t break the curse but I can weaken it. If you promise that the first duty that you will do after being crowned as the king is to take down the law that bans magic within the kingdom.”
“I was going to do that anyway,” Mark mumbled but was quick to straighten up when Ten raised a brow. “I promise.”
Ten nodded, stepping back towards the forest and pulling Kun with him. “Next full moon, we’ll meet here again.”
The day after Mark’s birthday, Johnny came to take him back to the palace. “I’m not leaving yet,” Mark said as soon as his friend opened the lock and stepped into the room. “Give me two weeks and after the next full moon we’ll make our way there on our own.”
Johnny paused. “...We?” His gaze flickered up to the ceiling, above which Haechan was resting. “Mark, your parents. They’ll never let you—”
“I don’t need their permission for anything anymore,” Mark cut in, holding back from gritting his teeth. “I’m expecting to be crowned as soon as the preparations are done. They may become my advisors but that doesn’t mean that I will be doing as they say.”
Again, Johnny hesitated. But Mark had already guessed what he was about to say. “The King and Queen have been saying that you might not be ready, given that you haven’t had the best kind of education during the past years. I obviously don’t doubt you nor Taeyong, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try to bend the rules.”
“I’ll take all the tests that are needed to prove that I’m ready and worthy, if it comes to that. I have promises to keep and people’s lives to improve. Whatever they attempt won’t hold me back. We both know I will rule better than them. I care about this kingdom for what it is, not what it can give me.”
Johnny blinked, eyebrows raised. Mark held his gaze until the other’s expression melted into a smile. “I always knew you were someone worth following. Even back when you were a much too curious kid, running around in places you weren’t supposed to be in.”
Mark snorted, but his shoulders felt lighter knowing that he had Johnny’s support. “Leave the doors unlocked on your way out.”
“Why is it so hard to stay mad at you?” Donghyuck grumbled, picking at the grass next to their feet. The sun had just set and he’d turned into his human form as soon as the first rays of the full moon peeked at the clearing from behind the treeline. They were sitting on the ground, Mark leaning against the cold stones at the base of the tower while Donghyuck leaned into his chest, keeping him warm while they waited for Ten and Kun to arrive.
Letting an amused breath through his nose, Mark wound his arms tighter around the boy in his arms and placed his chin on his shoulder. “Because I did a good thing.”
Donghyuck huffed, leaning further into Mark’s embrace and turning his head so their eyes could meet, faces close. “Yes, but you were reckless and didn’t think things through. You promised him anything , Mark. He could have asked for so much more than lifting the ban, he could have asked for your life.”
“Don’t.” Donghyuck’s voice broke into a whisper and he shut his eyes tightly. “Don’t say it.”
But the words that Mark almost said already echoed in the silence. I would have given it willingly.
Donghyuck hugged the arms that Mark had wrapped around his waist and leaned his forehead against his cheek. “I’d rather be permanently stuck in my dragon form than lose you.”
Mark’s chest felt both heavy and light as he cupped Donghyuck’s cheek, coaxing the other boy to face him and open his eyes. Even in the pale moonlight, his amber eyes shone with their own light. Mark couldn’t help the way his breath hitched at the back of his throat. “You won’t have to go through either of those things.”
He was just about to lean in when Donghyuck flinched and jumped up from the ground, pulling Mark to stand with him by the hand. He didn’t have the time to ask what was wrong before the other spoke. “They’re here.”
Two familiar figures stepped into the clearing from the shadows of the forest. Instead of letting go of Mark’s hand, Donghyuck squeezed it tighter as they walked up to meet the knight and the witch. Mark noticed how Donghyuck made sure to stay half in front of him, but he decided to not say anything about it. If it made the other feel better, he’d allow it even though it felt unnecessary.
Ten’s hood was already down when they met in the middle of the clearing. He was looking at Donghyuck carefully with a small smile on his lips. “Are you ready?”
The answering nod was immediate and confident, but the hand that was holding Mark’s had a slight tremor in it. “I’m ready.”
Seemingly satisfied with the answer, Ten turned to the knight beside him, gesturing to the ground by their feet. “Kun.”
Kun took off the small sack he had been carrying on his shoulder and opened it. After rummaging through for a few seconds, he pulled out a tiny cauldron that barely covered the palm of his hand. Mark frowned in confusion as the knight kneeled to place the cauldron on the ground before stepping back and looking to Ten. Mark couldn’t really read his expression, didn’t know the man well enough to be able to, but something about the way his eyes softened at the edges felt like something that Mark wasn’t supposed to notice. And something Kun wasn’t aware of.
Ten clasped his hands together and placed his chin on top of them, making Mark’s gaze flicker to take in the number of silver rings adorning every single one of the witch’s fingers, some of them even connected by chains that made soft chiming sounds as they brushed against each other. As Ten whispered words that Mark couldn’t comprehend and his eyes flashed deep purple, the cauldron started smoking before its size grew so fast that Donghyuck stumbled into Mark’s chest with a gasp.
The tiny cauldron turned into the size of a bathtub and filled with water that was already bubbling softly. There was a grin on Ten’s face when both Mark and Donghyuck turned to stare at him with gaping mouths. “Time to make a brew, boys!”
Mark didn’t recognize almost any of the ingredients that went into the potion. Kun stood by the cauldron like a dutiful assistant, handing an endless amount of weird-looking things over to the witch. Mark was starting to wonder if the sack was bottomless. Hair of a sorrowless widow, core of a blackened steel tulip, the last sunray of midsummer. Mark’s head was swimming. The last of those things looked like a star! It made the previously red concoction turn into a shimmering yellow, like the sun shining on the surface of a lake.
Ten made a cheerful clap when the change happened, turning to Mark and Donghyuck while holding out a hand towards the former. "And lastly, a lover's blood—"
The growl that came low from Donghyuck's throat wasn't that of a human. A shiver went down Mark's spine. "You're lying."
Ten gave him an unimpressed look, raising one of his eyebrows. "If I wanted the Prince's blood, there would be much easier methods for it. I could, for example—"
"Ten," Kun intercepted.
"Fine, fine." The witch rolled his eyes before giving Donghyuck what was actually quite a sincere expression. “I’m not lying, Donghyuck. I have no plans to hurt your prince anymore, as long as he doesn’t go back on his promise. This potion needs lover’s blood, otherwise it might do more harm than good.”
Mark placed one of his hands on Donghyuck’s stiff shoulder and stepped past him to let Ten take hold of the other one. “It’s fine,” he said to Donghyuck. Then to Ten, “Do whatever you need to do.”
The witch chuckled as he circled his fingers around Mark’s wrist and pulled him over to stand closer to the cauldron. “It won’t be as dramatic as you might think,” he said calmly as he tapped on one of the rings on his pointer finger and somehow made a sharp needle pop out of it. “This will sting a little.”
Even with the warning, Mark’s shoulders jumped when the needle pricked the skin of his ring finger. Ten held his hand above the cauldron and Mark was surprised by the warmth that emitted from the liquid within. It was almost like standing in front of a fireplace. The witch seemed careful in his actions as he pressed on Mark’s finger until a drop of blood fell into the potion and promptly disappeared. Then another one.
Once the third one fell, Ten quickly pulled Mark’s hand back and nudged him away just as the contents of the cauldron bubbled and let out a sound close to a sigh. When bright orange sparks bounced out of the potion and into the ground as if they were falling stars, Mark jumped back and would have fallen over if it weren’t for Donghyuck catching him by the waist. A puff of white smoke rose into the air before Ten let out a pleased noise. “It’s ready. All we need is some good stirring.”
Mark was about to turn to Donghyuck but was stopped by the other already stepping out from behind him and pressing into his side, grabbing his hand and staring at his still bleeding fingertip with downturned lips.
To be honest, Mark was a little amused and very fond of Donghyuck’s protectiveness. He wondered if it was something he was born with or if it came with the instincts of a dragon. “It’s nothing,” he said softly, wrapping his free hand around Donghyuck’s wrist and tried to coax him to let go. This only made Donghyuck’s frown deepen and Mark didn’t have the time to protest before the boy used the sleeve of his own shirt — which was actually Mark’s in the first place — to gently clean the blood away.
Only once the skin was spotless again did Donghyuck finally let go and raise his chin to meet eyes with Mark. There was something very vulnerable in his gaze and Mark found himself swallowing from the dim heat, thinking back on their conversation from before. I’d rather be permanently stuck in my dragon form than lose you.
It was a terrifying force, loving someone so much that you would do anything to not lose them. Yet you would lose yourself for them.
They flinched out of their own little world when a blur of white was pushed against Donghyuck’s chest. Ten was holding something that looked oddly like a nightgown. “You’ll have to wear this.”
Donghyuck stepped away from Mark and cradled the fabric to his chest properly. He stared down at it in confusion before furrowing his brows at Ten. “Why?”
The witch rolled his eyes as if the answer should have been obvious. “It’s made from the wool of a lamb whose mother sacrificed herself to save it from a wolf. The protective qualities will help the spell absorb better and keep you safe.”
“Huh,” Donghyuck let out, staring at the nightgown with awe this time, tracing the patterns with a single finger. “I— uh—” he stuttered, eyes flickering to Mark before his cheeks turned bright red.
“Just go behind the tower to change your clothes,” Ten said, waving a dismissive hand before pausing and grabbing Kun’s arm, his rings clanking against armour. “Actually, take Kun with you as well. He’s a sworn protector so if he helps you put it on — and trust me, it’s kind of hard to do it on your own — it should enhance the magic.”
Donghyuck took a few backward steps towards the tower as Kun gave Ten a look that meant… something before walking over to the boy, keeping a respectful distance with his hands held behind his back. The warning glare that Donghyuck gave to Ten could have rivalled the force of two suns but the witch didn’t even twitch. “I’ll be right back,” he said to Mark, who nodded with a reassuring smile. He didn’t think Ten was going to do anything. Probably.
As Donghyuck hurried away with Kun in tow, Mark heard him quietly asking the knight, “Have you ever been up to the North?” Mark didn’t hear the answer, but Donghyuck’s following question confirmed it. “What’s it like?”
Grinning to himself, Mark stepped closer to the cauldron to inspect the potion. It was bubbling softly, glimmers of gold glittering in the faintly yellow liquid. He imagined traces of it being left on Donghyuck’s sunkissed skin and felt his knees go a little weak. His fingers twitched at his sides, overwhelmed with the urge to reach a hand inside the cauldron just to know if it would feel as velvety as it looked.
“I wouldn’t touch that if I were you.” Mark jumped at the sound of Ten’s voice, having entirely forgotten about the presence of the witch. “That potion would melt your precious skin off your bones.”
Mark’s eyes widened in shock as he turned to look at Ten, just in time to see him pull out a long crystal stick from who knows where and carefully dip it into the cauldron before starting to stir the potion in circles. "But Donghyuck—"
"Has a dragon living inside of him. Even when his scales aren't there visibly, he's still protected from heat and fire. This is just a warm bath for him."
Taking in a deep breath, Mark forced his shoulders to relax. He had to trust Ten. They had made a deal, a promise. There was no reason to believe that the witch would go back on it. Actually, for some odd reason, Mark almost thought that he was a little fond of Donghyuck. On top of that, it seemed like Kun knew the witch better than he tried to let on and Mark trusted Kun. It will be alright.
Mark cleared his throat and Ten raised his brow in question. “The curse you put on Donghyuck,” he started quietly, hesitating when the witch’s mouth twitched, but still deciding to finish his question, “what kind of curse was it?”
It was silent for a moment, only the bubbling of the potion and the distance hoot of an owl could be heard before Ten sighed and switched around his stirring position. “It’s a curse to show one’s true nature by trapping them into a creature that resembles their soul. It was something I had recently come up with at that time and when I finally caught the brat that had been stealing things from my cottage for weeks , I decided that I might as well use it on him and see if it actually worked.”
“To be honest, I expected him to turn into something like a raccoon or a crow. Something that resembles a thief. But I guess the kid was much fiercer than I thought because he turned into a horse-sized baby dragon and practically tore down my garden in his panic.” Ten paused, tilting his head. “Now that I think about it, though, the dragon fits his soul perfectly. They like to hoard treasures, you know? With the way he’s been guarding you up there for the past years, it seems like the treasure he found for himself was you."
Mark stayed quiet, watching the hypnotizing way the stick moved in the potion. He pressed his lips together, trying to think of something to say but his mind was blank.
It seemed like Ten wasn’t done with his story yet, because he cleared his throat and added with a surprisingly quiet voice, “I hadn’t thought about the length of the curse when I made it. I assumed that it would fade away within a week, like most of my self-made spells at that age. But Donghyuck had run away and didn’t come back to the village for weeks . So I tracked him down and found him living here, still stuck in the form of a dragon. I observed him for a while just to get a better understanding of the curse and maybe figure out a way to break it, but, well, I didn’t find a way.” Ten shrugged, but his downcast eyes held the weight of guilt. “Figured he would try to kill me if he spotted me there so I left and never came back.”
Oh. Blinking away the stinging behind his eyes, Mark let out a breath. “You don’t know how to tell him that you’re sorry.”
Mark didn’t voice it as a question but Ten shook his head as an answer anyway.
Both of them looked up when they heard the sounds of footsteps come closer. Mark had to take a deep breath to not laugh at the disgruntled expression on Donghyuck’s face as he walked towards them while holding up the hem of the nightgown so it wouldn’t get dirtied by the grass. It was way too big on him, almost falling off one of his shoulders and hiding his hands beneath the sleeves. Kun followed up behind him with an amused smile on his face and Donghyuck’s discarded clothes in his arms.
“I look stupid in this thing,” Donghyuck muttered as soon as he reached them, eyes flickering to Mark before trailing to the ground. There was a pout on his lips and a bright flush travelled across his nose and settled on both cheeks. Mark had a sudden urge to cradle the boy in his arms and plant a crown of kisses upon his forehead, but he held himself back. This wasn't the time to display how hopelessly in love he was.
Instead, he reached out to try and fix the collar of the nightgown, but his efforts seemed to be in vain. Feeling his own ears heating up, Mark cleared his throat behind his fist. “I think it’s cute.”
Donghyuck snapped his head up, eyes narrowing. He thought Mark was making fun of him. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten what you wore on our first full moon.”
Blanching, Mark held up his hands. “I told you, it’s comfortable!”
Donghyuck’s indignation melted into amusement that sparkled in the flames of his eyes. Mark knew that the other was barely holding himself back from calling him a princess.
Ten cleared his throat, pulling the stick out of the potion and promptly making it disappear into thin air. “It’s ready,” he said. “I’ll need you to step in.”
Mark took Donghyuck's hand in his and watched as the boy breathed in deeply. He gave Mark a grateful smile before using him to steady himself while he raised one of his legs and dipped it into the water. A full-bodied shudder went through him at the contact, but he raised his other foot into the cauldron as well before letting go of Mark and kneeling down, his hands holding onto the edges.
Holding his breath, Mark waited to see even an inch of discomfort on Donghyuck’s face, but the other’s expression remained serene, if not a little nervous. It seemed like Ten had been right. The heat of the potion didn’t hurt him. Mark was about to open his mouth when Kun placed a hand on his shoulder and guided him to take a few steps away from the cauldron. “It’s better to keep some distance when he does this,” he said quietly, eyes on Ten. He looked almost worried. “It can be dangerous if he gets distracted.”
Mark gave a small nod to let the other know he heard the warning. His hands balled into fists as he watched Ten step closer to the cauldron and raise one of his bejewelled hands. The glow of the potion was brighter than that of the moon watching them from the sky. It made tiny lights flicker over Donghyuck’s face as he kneeled there with his eyes closed, mouth slightly ajar. He was so beautiful that Mark felt like he might have been dreaming. Yet, the ache to reach out and touch, to feel the warmth of the other's skin, reminded him that he was very much awake.
Donghyuck jumped slightly when Ten placed his hand on top of his head, but he kept his eyes closed even when the set of his jaw tightened. Ten’s dark eyes reflected the shimmer of the potion as he looked at the boy. “As soon as I stop humming, I need you to submerge yourself for exactly seven seconds. You’ll need to stay calm and focused to keep the count right. Do you understand?”
Ten patted his head twice before taking in a deep breath. Mark found himself doing the same without realizing. Closing his eyes as he began humming, the sleeves of Ten’s black robes seemed to start dancing within an unseen and unfelt wind. The tune began slowly, almost like a lullaby, until it gradually fastened and turned more intense.
When Ten snapped his eyes open, they were glowing bright purple and even his hair was rising a bit. This same air that seemed to have a mind of its own — or followed Ten’s command — appeared to be caressing Donghyuck’s cheeks and tousling his hair where it wasn’t held down by Ten. As if it was familiarizing itself with him.
It was abrupt when Ten stopped his humming. So abrupt in fact, that Mark didn’t even notice it until Donghyuck dipped the rest of his body into the potion that was now bubbling like it was about to burst. After six seconds, it settled. Then, Donghyuck resurfaced, gasping for breath. Mark took in a shocked inhale. Donghyuck’s eyes were glowing, just like Ten’s were, but they were bright orange.
It was gone with the blink of an eye, though, as Ten conjured up a towel and helped Donghyuck out of the cauldron. Donghyuck seemed almost… frantic as this happened, his hands shaking and his eyes wide with panic. Mark felt worry tug at his heart and was relieved when Kun didn’t pull him back as he stepped closer.
That was the only step he had time to take because as soon as Donghyuck’s feet touched the grass, he scrambled over to Mark and wrapped his arms around him, burying his face into the crook of his neck as his breathing stuttered.
Mark had expected to get an armful of wet boy, but it turned out that Donghyuck was completely dry by the time he reached him. He was so warm it almost burned when Mark curled one arm around his waist and the other around his shoulder. “What’s wrong?” He asked, surprised by the hoarseness of his own voice. Donghyuck didn’t answer but instead placed one of his hands on the side of Mark’s neck, tiny claws prickling the back of his nape.
There was a solemn look on Ten’s face when Mark peered up at him in question, trying to calm the boy in his arms by caressing a palm up and down his spine. “Lightening a curse doesn’t come without resistance. The curse fights back because it doesn’t want to lose whatever control it has.” When Mark’s eyes widened, Ten hurried to add. “Donghyuck is fine, the gown protected him from any physical counterattacks. But while he was submerged, he likely saw some visions that were… unpleasant. Thankfully he still managed to keep his focus.”
Mark pressed his lips together as he buried his nose in orange hair, inhaling the scent of wildflowers and smoke. There was something else too, but he couldn’t recognize the faint and sweet odour mixed within. Donghyuck let out a sigh, his breathing returning back to normal as he let go of Mark's neck and wrapped his arms around it instead. With a jolt in his chest, Mark realized the other had been tracing his pulse. ‘What did you see?’ He wanted to ask but knew that now was not the right time.
Instead, he squeezed Donghyuck tighter for a few seconds before pulling back to look at his face. The previous panic was replaced by the calmness of relief, and a small smile tugged at Donghyuck’s lips when Mark carded a hand through his hair to tame it down. “How do you feel?”
“Good, I think.” Donghyuck turned to Ten and tilted his head to the side as if listening for something. “The dragon in me, it feels… closer? Awake. Before, whenever I was in my human form, it felt like it was sleeping. If that makes sense.”
Ten nodded. “It does.” He stepped closer and raised a hand towards Donghyuck’s temple, waiting for a nod before pressing his fingers against Donghyuck’s skin. Ten closed his eyes, tilting his head as Donghyuck had before and letting out a hum before pulling his hand away. “For now, you’ll turn into a human whenever the moon is out, no matter its shape. During the day you’ll still be stuck in your dragon form.” He paused, crossing his arms over his chest. “But I think, with time and plenty of practice, you should be able to take control over the shift. No matter the time of the day.”
Donghyuck’s breath hitched before a bright smile took over his face. Mark felt his own, softer smile follow as he watched the other’s excitement. Even Ten couldn’t hold back an upwards twitch of his lips. Kun was the only one who didn’t smile as he walked over to the witch and placed a hand on his arm. “It’s time we go.”
Only once Ten’s shoulders slumped slightly and he leaned against Kun’s touch did Mark realize how tired the witch looked. His skin was paler than before, dark bruises beneath his eyes. The rings on his fingers clicked together with the tremble of his hands. The spell must have taken a toll on him.
With a nod of his head, Ten turned back to the cauldron and started working on dispersing the potion while Donghyuck hurried to change back to his previous clothes. Once they were packed up, Kun and Ten stood by the edge of the forest to bid them farewell, the former keeping a careful hand wrapped around the latter’s arm, like he was afraid that the other was about to collapse any time soon.
Mark swallowed his worry down, knowing that Kun would take good care of the witch. It was clear from the way he looked at him. They must’ve had some kind of history. “My coronation should be within the next few months. I’ll carry out my end of the promise as soon as I have the rights to break the ban.”
Despite the visible state of exhaustion, Ten still had the energy to smirk, it seemed. There was a twinkle of amusement in his eyes when he spoke. “I wonder how you will look in a crown. I have a feeling you might carry it quite well. Who knows, maybe I’ll invite myself over to see it with my own eyes.”
Kun bowed his head twice. “Farewell. Mark, and Donghyuck. I hope to meet you both again.” He then guided Ten to turn around and retreat.
They were almost in the forest when Donghyuck took a step forward, squeezing Mark’s hand. “Wait!” The pair stopped and turned their heads. There was a tight set to Donghyuck’s jaw when he met Ten’s eyes. “Thank you.”
The witch shook his head before pulling his hood up, his face disappearing within its unnatural shadows. “Don’t thank me. I owed you both this. For casting the curse in the first place and for the promise that was made.”
As soon as Kun and Ten stepped beyond the treeline, their silhouettes disappeared into the darkness.
The next night, once the moon was out, Mark and Donghyuck stepped out of the tower, both carrying a single sack in one of their hands. They were leaving behind many of Mark’s belongings, but everything necessary was taken with them. Maybe someone would come back and fetch the rest.
Donghyuck was energetic, swaying back and forth on his feet as Mark locked the door and slipped the key into his pocket. He turned to look at the other boy, just to be met with a mischievous grin and an arm snaking around his shoulder before Donghyuck pressed his lips against his cheek, the tip of his nose and the corner of his mouth. “Take me to your palace, My Prince,” he whispered, teasing.
Mark couldn’t hold back his smile, not that he even wanted to. A blush had followed every single press of warm lips against his skin and now he felt flushed, even in the chill of the night. Mark grasped Donghyuck’s hand in his own, pressing a kiss against four knuckles before gazing at the other from beneath his eyelashes. “The people are going to adore you.”
Biting at his lower lip, sharp canines reflecting the moonlight, Donghyuck wiggled his hand out of Mark’s hold and pressed it against his chest instead, feeling for his heartbeat. “They won’t detest me for having their future king’s heart in my claws?”
“No,” Mark said, knowing within his soul that it was true. He looked at Donghyuck, this boy of fire and smoke, of fierce and unquenchable hope. “They will see themselves in you and they will rejoice, for they will know that I shall rule as I love you. Openly, patiently, and with burning devotion.”