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nocturne of ice

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The knock to Johnny’s door comes like it does every year he comes back to Hiemstide. He swings it open to see Donghyuck standing there grinning at him, loose linen trousers and shirt doing nothing to protect him from the oncoming storm.

“Get in here,” Johnny tells him, ushering him inside. “Just looking at you makes me cold.”

“I’m fine,” Donghyuck says, and Johnny knows he is, that being a selkie his core temperature isn’t as high as Johnny’s, but the shock of the feeling of his ice cold skin as he pulls Johnny into a hug still surprises him every time. “How was your year?”

Johnny tells Donghyuck over hot cocoa. He gives Donghyuck one of his jumpers and a pair of warm socks and boots so that he can warm up a little and they sit in front of the fire in his cabin and talk.

It had been a long year. Since Johnny had seen Donghyuck last he had published a book, narrowly avoided getting poisoned and spent the summer in the middle of the desert. Travelling to extreme climates seemed to have become his calling card.

“What about you?” Johnny asks. “How is the clan?”

Donghyuck pulls a face. “Doyoung has been nagging at me about moving home again.” He says, picking at a thread on Johnny’s jumper. “The thought of being stuck on that island forever drives me crazy. I’m not going back.”

“Well you don’t have to think about that now.” Johnny says.

Donghyuck hums. “Distract me, please.”

“How does a hot meal sound?” Johnny says, getting to his feet. “I only got in last night, I haven’t had time to visit The Luxe yet.”

“Only if you’re paying.” Donghyuck grins.

Johnny laughs at that. Even if Donghyuck had money, Johnny knows he’d always end up covering the bill anyway. He has a soft spot for Donghyuck, and Donghyuck knows how to take full advantage of it.

Donghyuck borrows one of Johnny’s spare jackets and they walk from the cabin into the village. It’s about ten minutes on a good day, but the heavy flurry is making it hard to see. Donghyuck guides Johnny through it, holding his hand tight until they’re on the well lit road and Johnny knows where he is headed.

The Luxe is busy, as it is every evening – it’s the only place the residents can gather to eat and drink. They head straight to the bar and Taeil smiles at them both.

“Johnny! It’s been a while.” Taeil says. “You too Donghyuck. The unusual?”

“Please.” Johnny says.

They take a seat next to the fire. Johnny warms his hands and smiles at a few of the familiar faces – Chungha from the clothing store and Jaemin the librarian. Donghyuck asks about Johnny’s latest research plans whilst they wait, legs kicked up on the empty chair between them.

“Here you are.” Taeil says, placing two plates down in front of them. For a tiny pub in a village in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, everything was top tier. Johnny had eaten better meals on Svalbard than at the countless high end restaurants he is dragged to at academic conferences. It’s always something he looks forward to when he comes back to visit. Today’s meal is cod, served with vegetables Johnny knows that Jeno has grown. “Freshly caught by me and the boys this morning.” Taeil tells them.

“As always,” Johnny smiles.

It’s good to eat a hearty meal. It’s tradition now too – eating with Donghyuck has become routine whenever he visits, and he knows Donghyuck enjoys it too.

After they’ve finished eating, they move to another table. The pub is full now – Johnny spots Kun and Seulgi and Jaehyun at different tables, eating and talking to one another. Chenle finds them and gives them a run through of everything they’d missed since last winter – mostly just updates on the baby polar bears and arctic foxes they had come across.

By the time they’re ready to leave, Johnny feels full and warm. The snow has started to get worse, and they speed back to Johnny’s in the hopes of not getting caught up in the worst of it. Johnny’s pulling off his coat when he notices Donghyuck still standing at the open door, looking out into the darkness and biting at his lower lip.

“Stay.” Johnny says softly, tugging him indoors. “It should have let up by the morning.”

Donghyuck sighs and follows him inside.

They had known each other for five years now – the first winter they’d met Johnny had given up his bed and slept on the lumpy futon when Donghyuck needed a place to stay. It had lasted for a night before Donghyuck had told him it would be fine to share. That’s how Donghyuck ends up in his bed again, curled up in a ball at Johnny’s side. The heat radiates off of him, so much so that Johnny abandons the extra blankets he has used the night before.

“Good night.” Donghyuck says. He closes his eyes and his breathing starts to even almost instantly. All these years later, it still blows Johnny’s mind that he can drop off to sleep in an instant.

“Night,” Johnny says. He shuts his eyes and goes to sleep.

Donghyuck leaves just as Johnny rolls out of bed.

“I have business to attend to, but I’ll come back to see you in a few days.” He says. “Is there anything you need me to get whilst I’m gone?”

“If you fancy taking a deep dive then some of that seaweed you found me last year would be useful.” Johnny says. “Other than that, surprise me.”

“Gotcha.” Donghyuck waves and then heads off, slamming the door behind him.

Johnny’s only just finished getting dressed when the door swings open. The bang is loud and he freezes in place until he hears his name.

“Johnny?” Donghyuck’s calls out. He sounds distraught and Johnny runs straight to him. The panic in his eyes sends Johnny’s heart sinking in his chest.

“What is it?” Johnny asks. The snow has stopped but the wind is strong today and it blows in the open door, sending the loose papers on the kitchen table flying. Donghyuck looks seconds away from a full blown panic attack and Johnny brings Donghyuck’s hand to his chest so he can feel the steady thrum of his heart to try and calm him down. “Donghyuck, I need you to breathe and tell me what happened.”

“It’s gone. My pelt is gone.” Donghyuck says, tears welling up in his eyes. “Someone’s stolen it.”

 

Johnny sets down a mug of hot cocoa in front of Donghyuck and passes him one of the spare blankets. Donghyuck wraps it around his shoulders and lets out a quiet whimper, pulling it tightly around his neck.

“There’s no chance you just missed it when you were searching?” Johnny asks. “It was snowing for hours. It could be buried deep under there.”

“I know where I put my pelt.” Donghyuck snaps. He takes a deep breath. “Sorry.”

“No, I’m sorry. I’m just…” Johnny pauses. “If someone stole your pelt… This is bad.”

“Bad is an understatement. My life could be over.” Donghyuck sighs. He sounds close to tears again. “The longer I go without it, the more human I become. I need to find it, Johnny.”

“You will.” Johnny says. “We will. I will help you in any way I can.”

 

Once Donghyuck is feeling up to it, they head out onto the ice. Johnny trails behind with a lantern as Donghyuck marches forward towards the middle of a stretch of snow. There are no markers or symbols that distinguish it from any of the other frozen tundra, and with it being dark all day and night now it was winter, Johnny admires the fact that Donghyuck knew exactly where he was headed.

Donghyuck drops to his knees next to a mound of snow and looks up at Johnny. “It was here. I know it was.” He says. “I tend to move it around, just on the off chance that someone followed me out here and marked the spot. Whoever it was had to have been watching me yesterday morning. There’s no other way they could know where it was.”

Johnny helps dig the snow out of the hole until they’re a few feet deep, but there’s nothing there. Donghyuck sits back on his heels, the snow clinging to his eyelashes as he shuts his eyes. Johnny silently fills in the hole and stands, helping Donghyuck to his feet.

“Hiemstide isn’t that big.” Johnny says. “There’s no way this was an accident. There are only a few people who know what you are – it has to be one of them.”

“Who’s to say they’ve not told the rest of the village?” Donghyuck says. “Who’s to say they’re not all in on it? They know what my pelt’s worth, and even if they don’t, they know they can use it to blackmail me. Doyoung’s going to fucking kill me. They’ll never let me off the island – if I ever manage to get back.” He laughs sharply and shakes his head before kicking at the snow. “Fuck!”

Johnny presses his lips together. There was nothing that he could say to make things right – things wouldn’t be right until they had Donghyuck’s pelt and they knew it was safe.

“Whoever did this is in that village. They’re stuck here too, there are no boats for at least a week and they wouldn’t chance walking to another village in this weather. We have a few days at least before they try and escape to Greenland.” Johnny sighs. “I hate to say this, but Donghyuck, if they’re planning on selling your pelt, they won’t do it without its owner. They’re going to want you.”

Donghyuck grits his teeth. “Let them try.”

 

Johnny doesn’t have any clue about where to start when it comes to suspects, so he treats everyone with the same level of wariness when they march into the village that afternoon. The polar night means it’s pitch black, and the sweeping shadows of figures moving up and down the main road seem more haunting than they normally do.

Donghyuck’s existence is an open secret to those in Hiemstide. He had shown up years prior to Johnny’s arrival, but as far as the locals were concerned, he was just a wandering fisher’s boy with a death wish. Johnny still has nightmares about falling into the ice that first year, but he will never forget the way Donghyuck appeared from nowhere and called for help before Johnny lost his strength and drowned in the ice cold water.

Johnny had never told anyone about Donghyuck’s true identity. He thought he had hallucinated it for so long – seeing a grey seal shift into a human? It just didn’t seem real. At the end of that winter, Johnny had written up his report without any mention of Donghyuck and the academy hadn’t questioned how he had managed to extract deep sea corals to study, so it was a win-win situation.

The more he thought about it, the more Johnny was convinced it had to be someone they knew. The only person Johnny knew was aware of Donghyuck’s existence was Kun and that was because he’d been there the day Johnny had almost drowned.

It ends up being the first place they go to. Johnny feels sick as they walk up to the observatory. He had been friends with Kun for years now, and he’d never given Johnny any impression that he would do anything to harm Donghyuck. But at the same time, he lived on Hiemstide all year round – he knew this place as well as the locals. There was a chance it could be him.

Donghyuck is determined, his eyebrows bunched together and his fists clenched as he pulls Johnny along. He raps on the door with a fierce set of knocks and after a few moments, it opens slowly. Kun takes him Donghyuck’s expression and Johnny’s frown and steps aside.

“What happened?” He asks. “You look murderous.” He tells Donghyuck.

“I’m feeling it.” Donghyuck responds. He hesitates. Johnny feels for him. His gut says it wasn’t Kun, but whether they took the risk to confide in him was entirely Donghyuck’s choice. There was a chance he couldn’t be trusted.

He watches as a dozen emotions flicker across Donghyuck’s face before he presses his lips together. “Can I use your telescope?” He asks. “And do you have an old map of the village that you’re not using?”

“Of course.” Kun frowns, but he gestures for Donghyuck to take the stairs up to the second floor. “I’ll be with you in a second.”

Johnny follows Donghyuck up the stairs. The metal creaks with every step they take, and the minute they’re at the top, Donghyuck shrugs off the coat he had borrowed from Johnny and shoves it towards him.

Kun joins them after a few moments with a rolled up map and hands it over to Donghyuck who spreads it out on the table next to the telescope. He picks up a pencil and Johnny watches as he begins to make faint marks.

“This is the spot.” He looks up at Johnny, tapping the X with the pencil tip. Donghyuck looks into the telescope. “You can’t see it from here.”

“Then it’s someone who spends time out on the ice.” Johnny murmurs.

“Yeah.” Donghyuck sighs and drops the pencil on the table. “You were right about it being someone local too. No-one in their right mind would traipse all the way to Firn Bridge in weather like this just to. Well.” He glances over at Kun.

“And they wouldn’t know about you.” Johnny says. “If someone from around here had gone to Firn Bridge, we would know about it.”

Kun clears his throat. “Can I ask what’s going on?” He looks between them in utter confusion.

“I’m in trouble.” Donghyuck says. “Someone is trying to hurt me. Or at least, we’re pretty sure they are. We’re trying to figure out who would do such a thing.”

“Someone on Hiemstide?” Kun looks shocked.

“Yes.” Donghyuck says. “I don’t suppose you’ve noticed anyone acting suspicious lately, have you? This past week maybe, just before Johnny got here.”

Kun presses his fingers to his lips. “Not that I can recall. I’m sorry.” He says. “Is there anything I can do?”

“I’ve marked out a spot on the ice.” Kun walks over to the map. “I know it’ll be impossible for you to find the exact location in the dark, but if you could watch in that general direction, that would be perfect.”

“What am I looking for?” Kun asks.

“Anything.” Donghyuck says. “Any person, any animal. If you see anything out of the ordinary, tell us please.”

Kun nods.

Johnny reaches out to squeeze Donghyuck’s shoulder. “We’ll figure this out.” He says. “Let’s head back to the main road. Maybe we can ask around. See if we can figure some things out.”

“I’ll let you know the minute I see anything.” Kun says. “Just look out for the lights.”

“Thank you Kun.” Donghyuck says earnestly. He turns to Johnny and takes back the coat with a sigh. “Let’s go.

 

The Luxe is as busy as always. Johnny eyes the rest of the patrons as they enter, smiling as they make their way to their table. From where he is sitting, he can see the rest of the room clearly. On the walk over, they’d decided the best way to go about things was to carry on as normal – if they acted out or stayed locked up in Johnny’s cabin they’d probably draw the suspicion of the culprit. That and this was a small place. People talked, and if they wanted to keep on top of everything, it would be best to stay amongst the crowds.

Donghyuck fidgets in his chair. “I feel so uncomfortable knowing someone in this room probably wants me dead.” He mutters.

“I’m not going to let that happen.” Johnny tells him. He has a pistol and a shotgun. Whoever wanted to hurt Donghyuck would have to go through him first. “I promise.”

Donghyuck smiles weakly. “I trust you. You’re the only person I trust.” He says. “I’m just not sure that’ll be enough.”

They fall into silence. As much as Johnny doesn’t want to admit it, Donghyuck’s right. All they needed was one opportunity and it would all be over. Johnny can’t help but feel on edge at the thought – he can’t imagine how much worse Donghyuck probably feels.

“Evening gentlemen,” Taeil approaches them, a black tray tucked under one arm. “What can I get you?”

“Something strong and something hearty.” Donghyuck says.

“Long day?” Taeil asks.

Donghyuck hums. “Something like that.”

“You pair need to stop spending so long out on the ice.” Taeil says. “Those plants will still be there tomorrow.”

“There’s so much to record and not enough time to do it unfortunately.” Johnny says with a small smile. “I need to get as much down as I can before I’m off again.”

“As long as you’re being careful.” Taeil says. “Don’t want you falling into the water again.”

Donghyuck cracks a smile at that and Johnny rolls his eyes as Taeil chuckles and walks off.

“I’ll be old and grey and they’ll still be bringing that up.” Johnny says.

“You think you’ll still be making your yearly trip when you’re that old?” Donghyuck asks. “Surely you’ll have retired by then.”

“Maybe.” Johnny shrugs. “How else am I going to come and visit you?”

Donghyuck shakes his head, but his cheeks are a little flushed. The usual chatter between them isn’t there as they wait, but it’s understandable. Johnny eyes the room over the top of Donghyuck’s head instead, watching for anything that could be a sign.

“I don’t think staring at people is going to magically unveil the truth.” Donghyuck tells him.

“You never know.” Johnny says. “If I intimidate them enough, they might mess up.”

Donghyuck rolls his eyes. “Sure.”

Taeil brings them two large bowls of soup and freshly baked bread. He sets down a whiskey bottle on the table and says, “I wasn’t sure what you meant by strong, so I’m hoping this is good enough.”

“It’s perfect. Thank you.” Donghyuck says. The tension seems to disappear a little as he tears off a piece of bread and dips it into his soup.

“No problem. Let me know if you need anything else.”

As the evening goes on, The Luxe gets busier. They are joined at their table by a few others – Jaehyun and Jisung from the fishing boats and Chenle, the son of the governor of the village. Johnny watches as Donghyuck tries his best to act like everything is normal. He’s doing a good job at it. If Johnny didn’t know any better, he would have thought things were fine.

“I have to say, we really miss you around here in the summer.” Jaehyun says. “You’ll have to stay longer one year. I’m sure there will be plenty more things for you to uncover then.”

“I want to, actually. I would be asking for trouble if I decided to go into those mountains at this time of year, so I’m saving it for when it’s lighter out.” Johnny says.

Jaehyun snorts. “Yeah, that’s a death wish for sure. The polar bears would tear you to shreds.”

“Not if the cold didn’t get him first,” Chenle interrupts. “We nearly had a tourist die on us this summer because they decided they knew better than everyone else and wanted to take a stroll across the tundra. Dad almost killed them himself when they woke up.”

Johnny shakes his head. “Well I’m not that foolish.”

“You’re still foolish enough to go out in the dark digging holes in the ice.” Chenle points out. “That’s not much better.”

“Touché.” Johnny laughs.

“Ah, leave him alone. He has to make a living somehow.” Taeil says as he approaches the table. “We all do. Refills?”

Johnny buys a round of drinks for everyone. Jisung and Chenle wander off to raid the kitchen, and Taeil pulls up a chair, his own beer in hand.

“How is business? I never asked.” Johnny says.

“Pretty good. Summer was a great season for us, and we’ve started trading more large scale goods with our neighbours over in Greenland.” Taeil takes a sip of his drink. He nods at Jaehyun. “It’s always rough fishing at this time of year, but they’ve been keeping me well supplied so I can’t complain there either.”

“I like to live on the edge,” Jaehyun jokes. “Nah, I’m just used to it now. I’ve been doing this since I was a kid. It’s in my blood.”

“I bet you know this land like the back of your hand.” Donghyuck says.

“Pretty much.” Jaehyun says. “You have to. One wrong step can cost you dearly.”

“Don’t I know it,” Donghyuck mutters under his breath.

“How’s work been for you so far?” Taeil asks. “That storm can’t have been helpful.”

“Slow.” Johnny says. He makes eye contact with Donghyuck. “I haven’t really gotten started yet at all.”

“It’s meant to hit even harder in the next few days.” Jaehyun says. “Kun said the reports are showing it could be at least a week before the storm truly settles.”

“I’ll just have to brave it.” Johnny says. “I’ll do what I can before I have to lock myself up in my cabin.”

“Make sure to stop by and I can give you some extra supplies to tide you over. Food, blankets. Whatever you need.” Taeil says.

“Thank you.” Johnny says.

They head back to the cabin when Donghyuck starts to yawn. Johnny bids the remaining patrons goodnight, and the two of them follow the same familiar path through the snow. Donghyuck is quiet all the way back. He doesn’t talk until after he’s stripped down to an old shirt of Johnny’s, climbing into the bed and pulling his knees up to his chest.

“This is going to be impossible.” He says.

“Don’t say that.” Johnny tells him. He gets into bed and places his hand on Donghyuck’s forearm. It’s blazing with heat. “It’s only been a day – we still have time.”

“We learned nothing today.” Donghyuck says. “What are we going to do tomorrow. The same thing? Walk around and interview the other hundred people we didn’t get a chance to speak to today?”

“Donghyuck…” Johnny sighs. “I wish there was more we could do. But short of tearing this place apart, I’m not sure anything will help.”

Donghyuck runs a hand over his face. “I know. I just feel hopeless.” He sighs.

Johnny watches as Donghyuck lies down with his back to him, pulling the sheet closely over his body. Johnny lies down facing Donghyuck’s side of the bed. He listens for a long time before his breathing turns into soft snores. Sleep doesn’t come easy for Johnny that night.

“I’m going to try and contact my clan.” Donghyuck says the next morning. It had been a restless night – Johnny had woken up to him writhing about and whimpering. The bags under his eyes are testament to it all. “I could use some guidance.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Johnny asks. “That’s not going to be an easy walk, and if you’re losing your magic like you said…”

“I don’t know what else to do.” Donghyuck says.

“Let me come with you at least,” Johnny says.

Donghyuck shakes his head. “It would be quicker for me to go alone, both you and I know that.”

Johnny grits his teeth. “I don’t like this.”

“You stay here and do what you can. Speak to people, cover some ground. I’ll be back by nightfall and if I’m not I give you my full permission to send out a search party, huskies and all.” Donghyuck says, waving his hands with a flourish.

“Don’t joke.” Johnny tells him. He sighs. “I’m not going to change your mind, am I?”

Donghyuck shakes his head.

“Let me prepare you a bag then.” Johnny says. “Just in case.”

Johnny fills the backpack with everything he can spare. A change of clothes, thermal underwear, bottled water and non-perishable food. Donghyuck refused the shotgun so Johnny hands him his pistol instead. “You never know what will happen.” He says. It wasn’t just the polar bears that were a threat anymore.

Donghyuck leaves with a tired smile, pulling Johnny into a hug. “Be careful,” Johnny tells him. “If you’re not back –”

“I know, I will be.” Donghyuck squeezes his hand and steps out into the snow. “I promise.”

Johnny watches from the window as Donghyuck slowly disappears from view. He runs a hand down his face. Has that really been the smartest choice? Definitely not. It was too late now though.

Johnny’s mind is restless as he gets dressed. He figures he can just work his way up the main road. Most people would be out and about, preparing for the incoming storm so he could catch a lot of them if he made it quick. How do you approach people about something they might have no clue about? The people of Hiemstide weren’t ignorant to magic, but the majority didn’t know about the clan of selkies that lived somewhere up north and Johnny wasn’t about to expose them.

Johnny sets out with his shotgun over one shoulder and a bag over the other. The snow crunches underfoot as he marches towards Hiemstide proper. The first building he comes across is the library. Jaemin is at the front desk when he enters and he greets Johnny with a smile.

“Hey. Anything in particular I can help you with today?” Jaemin asks.

“I’m just going to have a browse.” Johnny says, and Jaemin nods with a smile.

The library is small, but it has a wide range of books. Johnny makes his way to the mythology section, scanning the shelves until he finds a small book on selkies. It’s leatherbound and falling apart. Johnny flicks through it. It’s basic, written long before anyone in the village would have been aware of the existence of Donghyuck and his clan. Some of the information is outdated too, Johnny notes that a lot of things contradict what Donghyuck had told him about selkie magic. There’s a section towards the end on the power of the selkie pelt, the fact that it is the root of their magic and that without it, they will lose their power. A selkie is worthless without its pelt, and a pelt worthless without the selkie who owns it.

Johnny sets the book down and turns on his heel. Jaemin waves at him as he marches through the library doors, but Johnny is too focused on the sinking feeling in his chest as he steps out into the snow.

He never should have let Donghyuck go off alone. If they had stalked him to find his pelt, they had no doubt stalked him when he left Johnny’s cabin that morning. Johnny leaving Donghyuck to go alone might have killed him. Whoever it was had to have been watching them the whole time. Donghyuck was in way more danger than either of them realised.

In the pitch black, Johnny notices immediately when the flickering of the bright light from the observatory turns on. He stands and watches as Kun messages him with a series of dashes and dots. M-O-O-N.

Johnny runs for the dock.

As he approaches, he sees Jisung. He is stood alone shivering, dressed in too little for this weather. He spots Johnny and instantly starts shaking his head, holding out his arms to try and stop Johnny from continuing onwards.

“They’ll kill you.” Jisung says.

“Like they’re about to kill Donghyuck?” Johnny asks.

Jisung looks terrified. “I didn’t know, I swear, they just told me it was a cloak, I didn’t know –”

“Go back to the village, Jisung.” Johnny tells him, storming onwards.

It’s hard to make out at first, but the closer he gets the better he can see the figures of Jaehyun and Taeil standing at the end of the dock, lit by the lanterns above them. They exchange something and Jaehyun turns and starts to walk towards the small fishing boat tied to the dock. Johnny doesn’t hesitate – he lifts his shotgun and aims at Jaehyun’s legs. He’s not a killer and he doesn’t want to be, but he’s not about to let them get away with this.

The shot goes wide and ricochets off the boat, the loud noise making both Taeil and Jaehyun jump. Johnny fires again and Jaehyun makes a run for it. Third time lucky, Johnny manages to get him in the back of his thigh and he falls to his knees.

Johnny just hopes it’ll buy him and Donghyuck enough time.

“You’re a criminal.” Johnny tells Taei when he gets close enough.

Taeil’s holding Johnny’s pistol and they stand, aiming at each other.

“I thought you of all people would understand, Johnny. You make gold off of all this research you do on those magic plants and yet I’m in the wrong for trying to do the same with a magical creature?” Taeil says.

“There is a difference between research that could help society and kidnapping for your own personal gain.” Johnny says. “I come here with the intention to leave this place as close to the way it was when I arrived. Do you think that Donghyuck is alone out there? They will hunt you down for what you’ve done.”

“Exactly.” Taeil says. “And to do that, they’ll have to hide their pelts and I’ll be waiting to add the rest of them to my collection.”

Johnny shoots his shotgun and Taeil dodges out of the way. There’s nowhere for him to go – either he gets on the boat or he tries to make a run for it around Johnny and the dock isn’t wide enough to do that without risking his life. Johnny shoots again and again. He hopes someone is close enough to hear, that they recognise that Johnny has shot way too many times for it to be a warning shot against a polar bear and that something is wrong.

Johnny keeps moving forward. Taeil is clearly starting to panic and he tries to shoot at Johnny but he misses. He scrambles onto the boat and Johnny jumps up behind him, keeping his shotgun levelled at Taeil and Jaehyun’s figures whilst he keeps an eye out for Donghyuck.

He spots the pelt first, thrown carelessly over a crate. “Donghyuck?” Johnny calls. There’s a thudding and Johnny sets his shotgun down for a moment to pry the lid off the crate. Donghyuck looks up at him, eyes full of fury and Johnny reaches down to pull the gag off his mouth.

“I’ll kill them.” Donghyuck’s tone is filled with nothing but venom.

Johnny hears the click of a gun behind him and he freezes.

“Not if we kill you first.” Jaehyun says.

Johnny slowly turns, hands up in the air. Jaehyun is looking at him like the cat that got the cream whilst Taeil stands behind him, arms crossed.

“It’ll be a shame when we have to let your team know you unfortunately died after falling into the icy waters and that you were found too late to be saved.” Taeil says. “One of the risks of the job, I suppose.”

“And Jisung? You’ve scarred that poor kid for life.” Johnny says.

“This is his home.” Jaehyun says. “He’ll never leave and he’ll certainly never talk. He knew the dangers getting into this.”

“So you manipulated a kid into doing your dirty work. Great job guys.” Johnny says. “I would ask how you plan to live with yourselves but I’m getting the impression you don’t give a damn at all.”

At the same time Taeil opens his mouth to respond, Jaehyun’s eyes dart from Johnny’s body and he moves his gun. Johnny turns just in time to see Donghyuck leaping over the edge of the boat, pelt wrapped around his body. He shifts just before he hits the water, human form replaced with that of a seal in the blink of an eye, and then he’s gone.

“Fuck!” Taeil runs to the edge of the boat.

Johnny uses the distraction to lift his shotgun again and press it to Jaehyun’s chest. “How’s your leg?” He asks.

He glances behind him to see Taeil raising his pistol. They’re at a standoff. Up until tonight, Johnny would never have thought Taeil would have the guts to pull the trigger, but then again, until tonight, Johnny would never have figured he was the type to plot out a scheme like this. At this point, Johnny honestly wouldn’t put it past Taeil to pull the trigger on either of them. Now that his precious cargo has escaped, the less people who knew the truth about what had gone on, the better. Johnny prays that if he doesn’t make it out of this alive that someone has Jisung’s back.

Johnny makes eye contact with Jaehyun. He looks unsure now, like he can’t tell whether or not Johnny will shoot him if it comes down to it.

It doesn’t matter either way – the boat starts to rock back and forth and they all scramble to keep themselves up right. It’s no longer tethered to the dock and it slowly drifts further away. Johnny wonders whether it would be stupid to try and leap away to safety when the boat lurches and tips to the side and he falls backwards, straight into the water.

The shock of the cold water instantly transports him back to the last time he found himself in the Arctic waters. Johnny gasps involuntarily, swallowing down water. He starts to panic and feels the burning in his chest as he begins to choke. He’s wearing too many layers and the water is weighing him down. This is how he’s going to die.

There’s a strange sensation on his face and Johnny opens his eyes to see a seal looking directly at him. Donghyuck shifts and pulls Johnny up to the surface. As soon as they’re above the water Johnny coughs, trying to get the water out of his lungs. He can hear voices and feels the extra hands as they pull him up onto the dock.

“Come on, get it all out,” Kun’s voice comes quietly from behind him as he puts his arms around Johnny’s waist and presses down to try and get the water out his system.

It’s not just Kun. The voices all seem to mix together but he can hear shouting that sounds like the governor, Jisung’s worried whispers and gasps from whoever else is watching.

Johnny throws up the water over the edge of the dock. He feels dizzy, like the cold is paralysing him. There’s a hand at his face, stroking at his cheekbone and he opens his eyes to see Donghyuck smiling at him.

“Thank you,” Donghyuck says, and then Johnny blacks out.

“Johnny?”

There’s a hand shaking at his shoulder. Johnny opens his eyes and looks up at Donghyuck, sighing at the warmth of his touch.

“Doyoung’s here.”

Johnny freezes and Donghyuck laughs.

Donghyuck had refused to leave his side after the incident at the dock. Johnny had been taken to Hiemstide’s hospital and monitored to make sure there was no more water in his lungs. Both Taeil and Jaehyun had made it too, although they were a little

more worse for wear than Johnny was. Kun had said the governor was going to have them transported off to Greenland and kept under surveillance until they were fully recovered and then they’d be punished for their actions.

They’d moved Johnny back to his cabin after a few weeks, and Kun offered to look after Johnny whilst Donghyuck went back to his clan to update them on where he had been. It was almost a month since he had last seen them and Donghyuck never went without visiting for that long. He’d returned after a few days with a tight smile, and when Johnny had asked how it had gone, he’d only answered with a quiet “fine.”

The fact Doyoung was here couldn’t be good.

Donghyuck helps Johnny out of bed. It’s not that he really needed the help anymore, but Donghyuck had been hovering at his side ever since he returned home. He’d been slow in his recovery in the beginning, and all his research put on hold for the time being. There were plenty of things to keep him busy when he was awake – half of Hiemstide had come to visit, with Jeno taking over The Luxe for the time being and bringing him food, Chungha knitting him a new blanket and even Jisung, who had trailed in nervously behind Chenle and kept his head low until Johnny told him to look out for himself.

Doyoung’s face is hard to read. His pelt is tied over his shoulders like a cloak and he stands when Johnny enters the room, seemingly not knowing what to do with himself when Johnny holds out his hand in greeting. Doyoung shakes it slowly. Johnny doesn’t blame him.

“It’s nice to meet you.” Johnny says.

“I suppose I should say the same to you. Donghyuck has spoken about you a lot.” Doyoung says.

Johnny looks over at Donghyuck who shrugs his shoulders. Johnny sits down and Doyoung sits across from him, folding his hands in his lap.

“Donghyuck isn’t planning on coming back to live with the clan. At least not long term. He told me he planned to either stay here in Hiemstide or leave with you.” Doyoung says. “I wanted to meet you first.”

Johnny turns to Donghyuck, eyebrows raised. “You want to come with me?”

“You haven’t asked him yet?” Doyoung asks, disapproving.

Donghyuck scowls. “Johnny nearly died. I think his recovery was more important than me pestering him to ask if I could come with him wherever he’s headed next. Besides, there’s still plenty of time before spring.” He turns to Johnny. “I’m not going back to the island and I don’t want to stay here, not without you. I don’t think I’ll feel safe for a long time, even though no-one else was involved. You’re the only one I trust.”

“You’re always welcome with me.” Johnny tells him. “I’d have to make some arrangements, but I’m sure it’ll be no problem.”

Donghyuck relaxes, reaching out to squeeze Johnny’s forearm.

“That’s good to know.” Doyoung says, clearing his throat. “I’m glad to know Donghyuck will be in safe hands.”

“I think it’s me who will be in safe hands. He’s saved my life twice now.” Johnny points out.

“That’s true,” Doyoung responds.

He seems to relax a little after that. Johnny gets it – not everyone is going to have the same carefree attitude as Donghyuck when walking into a village filled with humans, especially after what had happened. Johnny sits back and lets the two of them talk, answering questions when Doyoung politely inquires about his research.

Johnny’s stomach starts to rumble after a while and when the conversation naturally ends, he speaks up. “Would you like to stay for dinner?”

Doyoung looks between them. “If it’s not any bother –”

“Of course not.” Johnny says. “I can tell you more stories of what I get up to if you’d like.”

Doyoung nods. “Okay.”

Donghyuck corners Johnny in the kitchen after they’d given Doyoung his first hot cocoa. He’d been impressed, Johnny could tell even though he had tried his hardest to hide it.

“You didn’t have to do all this.” Donghyuck says quietly, glancing over his shoulder at Doyoung.

“It’s the least I can do to reassure him that he doesn’t need to worry.” Johnny says.

It’s much later, when Doyoung has left for home, that Donghyuck comes into Johnny’s bedroom, pulling open the drawer of his dresser to check on his pelt, folded away in amongst Johnny’s jumpers for safe keeping. It says something that Donghyuck has entrusted it to him, in his room. Johnny has been thinking about it a lot recently.

He watches over his book as Donghyuck nods in satisfaction and then makes his way over to the bed, making himself comfortable against Johnny’s side.

“Maybe one day you can come with me and we can visit my clan.” Donghyuck says. “They’re not all as scared of humans as Doyoung.”

Doyoung has every right to be, especially after what happened to Donghyuck. Johnny knows Doyoung’s just looking out for Donghyuck, no matter how much he claims not to need the attention.

“I would be honoured.” Johnny says. “I’ll take you on a world tour first. Then you’ll really have something interesting to show them.”

“I don’t know. I think you’ll be interesting enough.” Donghyuck responds, patting Johnny’s arm before he closes his eyes and goes to sleep.