Most of Felix’s friends had idyllic wishes for summer vacations – backpacking between landlocked cities on one of the continents, luxuriously sailing across the oceans, wild partying with their other friends – it was part and parcel for teens just on the verge of adulthood, chomping at the bit for freedom, for passion, for hazy, crazy recklessness.
But Felix – Felix wanted to be here.
“What color do you think he’ll be?” his mother asked, glancing towards the flurry of preparation around the birthing pool, at the sac that was being lowered from the incubator into the warm waters. “Green capped with blue, yeah?”
“Green-blue combination is dominant coloring, but I like the red,” his father said from Felix’s other side.
Felix sat between his parents, left to his own devices for the most part – his parents were like pillars to either side of him, their presence both protective barriers and larger than life shadows. Nobody was going to bypass legends to talk to the young boy tucked between them.
It wasn’t that he minded. He preferred it, even. Without the intense regard given to his parents, he was free to take it all in, an eager spark thrumming just under his skin – this was hardly his first hatching, but he was excited all the same. Terrapoids had been difficult to engineer and if this hatching was successful, the new Reckoner would be only the third terrapoid to exist.
“Felix?” his mother asked, nuding him gently, eyes sparkling with amusement. “Come on, you’ve got to be our tie-breaker.”
Grinning, Felix glanced at both his parents and then leaned closer to the railing to look down at where the sac was still being unloaded, a slew of techs handling everything with care while a trio of handler-hopefuls stood by.
“I like the red too,” he decided, stifling a laugh when his mother huffed and swatted his knee gently, with easy affection.
“Recessive genes are a terrible thing to bet on,” she sniffed.
“There’s a joke in there somewhere about the recession of the denim industry,” his father mused, and promptly tried to hide behind his son when his wife lunged for him.
“Stop ruining your reputation,” Felix said, amused as he wiggled out of his chair and away from them both. He supposed he could fake embarrassment for a time, play the dutiful role of a much-chagrined seventeen year old who’d been dragged here by his overbearing parents.
Instead, he braced his elbows on the barrier and looked down at the sac. Inside, hidden behind thick, tough synthetic membrane, was a creature. A creature that was currently no larger than an average human, but would grow to be something far, far beyond that – a Reckoner; part snapping turtle, part marine iguana, part awesome. His parents had spent nearly two years engineering this new subspecies of Reckoner, with Felix peeking into their home lab when he’d come home from school or reading over their shoulders when homework was done.
(Homework never did last very long, after all – Felix didn’t attend high school for the education, it was for his friends. Keeping a low profile and dutifully turning in his calculus homework was rewarded with arcade nights with Eric, beach outings with Chenle, and maybe an actual date with Seungmin.)
There was movement among the handlers and Felix’s eyes were drawn that way, taking in the three of them. A stocky young man – probably only older than Felix by a handful of years – held a small case like he was holding a bomb, quietly conferring with the other two handlers and the head trainer. There was something about the set of his shoulders, the force of his hands, that caught Felix’s attention.
“He seems really nervous,” he said, glancing over his shoulder at his parents, frowning slightly.
His mother followed the flick of his fingers towards the handlers and sighed. “He was personally selected,” she said, and Felix knew her well enough to hear the undercurrent of disapproval – personally selected but not on merit, it would seem. Perhaps money or political maneuvering instead. Interesting, considering this Reckoner was promised to the military.
Just then, a man approached them, dressed surprisingly casually for a place that was filled with suits and lab coats – Park Jinyoung, founder of Park Industries himself. “We’re about to get started,” he said, smiling broadly as he took a seat next to Felix’s parents. “Are you excited?”
“Always,” Felix’s father agreed, and Felix knew that were it not for his parents’ joint dedication to his upbringing, they’d probably travel to every hatching across the globe. San Francisco having a hatching right at the start of Felix’s summer vacation was near magic timing.
The sac was in the water now, almost fully immersed, this strange lumpy ball of browning opaque membrane that kicked and shuddered occasionally – something inside ready to break free.
At the edge of the pool, the handler with the case set it down and snapped it open, revealing a long, hooked scalpel, much larger and heavier than anything that would be used on a human due to how difficult the sac was to break open.
But Felix felt a flicker of unease spark in his throat, still leaning against the rail to watch. There was something about this handler that Felix just didn’t love, watching as he approached the sac, scalpel in hand.
The room was mostly silent, most people intently watching, just a couple of lab techs in the corner murmuring as they kept an eye on the monitors set up for the baby Reckoner’s vitals. It was almost as if everyone was holding their breath and Felix couldn’t tell if it was worry or reverence that caused it.
The handler took a deep breath and made the first cut.
It was instantly wrong, as he stabbed too deep and couldn’t get the leverage he needed to open the sac, a rush of viscous fluids bursting out from the small opening. He must have caught the tip of the scalpel on the infant Reckoner within as there was sudden thrashing, violent, almost frenzied, from within the sac, knocking into the handler so hard that he lost his grip on the scalpel, as a muffled shrieking noise came from the sac itself.
“What is he doing?” Felix heard his mother gasp, but it felt distant, filtering through the sudden pounding of Felix’s heart in his throat, ice flooding his veins.
He could hear the cry, pained and afraid.
Below, the handler staggered to his feet, the other two rushing to his side, but he was clumsy as he tried to wrench the scalpel back out, only barely managing to cut a slightly larger opening.
“He’s too slow,” Felix whispered as realization dawned on him, and his heart was thudding so hard against his ribs, he thought he might vomit. Everything was disintegrating to no no no nononono because Felix knew that they’d just made an opening big enough for water to flood into the sac, immersing the trapped terrapoid who did not yet have the capability of breathing underwater that he would when he was older.
And the handler was just too slow.
Felix moved before he realized, gripping the railing before vaulting over and sliding straight into the birthing pool, even as people started shouting behind him. Adrenaline surged through him like a possessive force as he dashed to the sac.
“Move,” someone said, and then Felix realized – oh, that was his own voice. How strange that his mouth could move without his awareness, but he didn’t dwell on it as he slid between the handler and the sac, reaching for the scalpel. He gripped the blade and then stuck his foot into the opening already made, wrenching with his entire body, using the leverage to slice a gash lengthwise along the sac.
The terrapoid burst out with a frenzy of claws and shell and limbs and screaming, knocking Felix askew as he lurched above the water’s surface.
But Felix had helped with hatchings before and knew he couldn’t stop, twisting to slam down onto the baby male Reckoner’s armored shell, allowing his head to remain above water but immobilizing him for a brief moment – and none too soon, as he snapped forward, trying to take a bite of flesh out of the nearest source of food – the handler. The Reckoner’s sharp beak missed by inches.
Felix knew he couldn’t wrangle a starved and frightened baby Reckoner on his own forever. “Feed it,” he snapped, and luckily one of the other handlers was there, looking much more composed than the original, flinging a live fish towards the water as she let out a series of clicks with a device in her hands – a training device that would later be replaced with a proper Reckoner Otachi.
The terrapoid snatched the fish out of the air, his jaws crunching down with a sickening snap, and began eating voraciously, this second handler taking over the feeding smoothly, keeping the fish in quick supply while providing the same command (feed) every time.
Felix sagged against the terrapoid’s carapace, suddenly drained, the adrenaline leaving him like a wave withdrawing after it had crashed violently against the shores. He’d never done anything like that before and it left him dazed, the rest of the world turning fuzzy except the Reckoner he was pressed against.
Huh. It was grey with red splotches.
“Hey, son, let's get you out of here,” someone said, and this time it was someone else – someone from the base. Felix didn’t recognize them, just that they gently grasped his arm, pulling him off of the terrapoid.
Pain shot through Felix, so abruptly that his vision went black, and the medic practically had to carry him out of the pool. He hadn’t even realized the terrapoid had swiped him when he was trying to get above the surface, but Felix could feel it now; long, thin ribbons of white-hot pain etched against his ribs.
Felix was gently set down on the lip of the pool, the medic cutting away the tattered remains of his shirt to examine the extent of his injuries.
“Felix, honey,” his mother said, appearing at his other side, a towel in her hands as she gently began drying him, careful not to move Felix as the medic was at work. Around them was a flurry of activity and raised voices but all of that washed over Felix without notice. “You gave me such a fright, sweetie.”
Felix blinked at her. He felt like he was still half submerged in water, everything muffled and out of focus as he slowly looked down at where the medic was staunching the blood flow. (Huh... That was his blood. Strange. He’d never seen so much of it outside his body before.)
“We’re both red,” he finally said, nodding towards the Reckoner.
The look his mother gave him was appalled. “Lee Yongbok Felix, I would ground you if I wasn’t so relieved you’re okay,” she finally managed, voice coming out strangled.
But she was still gentle when she pressed a kiss to his temple.
Beyond them, the Reckoner devoured another fish.
“You know… I had forgotten that it was you from all those stories,” Chris said, quietly, contemplatively. “We used to hear about it all the time when I first became a trainer. They fired like five people over it.”
Felix let out a soft hum, hazy, boneless. The injuries hadn’t been that bad, in the end. Felix had spent the rest of summer vacation recovering, bandages taped against his ribs for several weeks, but that was years ago. The wounds had long since turned pale and faded, almost translucent, the sunken tissue like a brand against his ribs.
Chris’s fingertips traced over the length of them, so warm and tender, and Felix was brought back to the present.
The present being him and Chris laid out on Chris’s couch, shirts long discarded as Chris mapped out his scars. They’d been making out, hot and heavy, almost desperate in a way that had felt both juvenile and exhilarating, but it was their third date and Felix hadn’t been back to Jeju in nearly two weeks and the hunger that gripped Felix’s mouth needed to be fed and so he had been greedy in his devouring, reveling in the way Chris gripped his hips and pulled him in all the closer.
Then Felix had tugged his shirt off and Chris’s eyes had gone wide at the sight, a hand coming up, about to touch before he’d paused, waiting for Felix to nod, a quiet yes on his lips. Felix wasn’t shy about the scars, even if they were so visible, so noticeable, the only marks on his body besides the tiny pinpricks on the insides of his elbows.
The atmosphere shifted, settling down from frenzied heights to a heated simmer as Chris wrapped an arm around Felix, laying him out on the couch with ease so Chris could look, could touch, his fingertips searing hot despite their gentleness.
(It was a new sensation, the way Chris touched him. He was hardly Felix’s first partner, but the reverence in which he ran his palms over Felix’s skin, as if it was part of a prayer, as if he was worshipping Felix, that was new and different and threatened to overwhelm Felix but only in the good ways.)
“Nice to know I’m still famous,” Felix said, delayed, sounding near woozy with the way his words slurred together, but he was so content, he could barely keep his eyes open, warmth and heat both pulsing through his veins.
“You’re incredible,” Chris said, open, honest, the words coming out with an ease that set Felix’s nerves on fire, but then Chris leaned down, put his mouth over the topmost scar, and Felix nearly astral projected out of his body, going taut like a wire at the heat of it all. “So very, very incredible,” Chris said between languid kisses, breath hot against Felix’s skin.
How strange that touch so simple could make Felix feel like he was drowning.
How strange that Chris could submerge him so easily.
“Mmm,” Felix said, or attempted to, breath stuck in his throat, mouth full of cotton now that Chris wasn’t on his tongue. He tried again. “My parents would say I’m very credible, I have three degrees.”
That got a snort from Chris, but it didn’t stop the man from continuing to mouth hotly down the entire length of each scar, one after the other. “How lucky your parents were to have you,” he murmured against Felix’s ribs.
Those words stirred something in Felix, even as he arched up into Chris’s mouth. It was a memory, distant and foggy, faded around the edges of a time so long ago – of entire days spent in his parents’ home lab, sat on his father’s lap while his mother stared at charts next to his baby picture; of the one wall where they marked his height every third month on the dot, the pencil marks now faded but still visible; of a serpentoid plush toy that Felix had held onto so tight when he’d been anxious as a child, still sat somewhere on his mother’s desk even now.
“I don’t think–” Felix said, half out of his own body as Chris scraped his teeth against the tender scarring. “I don’t think it was luck.”
“I feel lucky,” Chris said, finally bringing himself back up to kiss Felix, a juxtaposition of tenderness and absolute ravenous need as he coaxed Felix’s mouth open, licking in hot and dirty until Felix let out a whine. “I feel so lucky, baby.”
Truly, Felix deserved a fucking award for the restraint shown when he pushed Chris away enough so they could look at each other, flushed, panting slightly, Chris’s eyes as dark as Felix’s own. “I’m too classy to fuck on your couch,” Felix rasped out, and holy shit, he sounded wrecked even to his own ears.
Chris blinked, cocked his head to the side, before he grinned, and it was cute but also filthy. Felix was losing his mind. “Not too classy to fuck on my bed?” he asked.
… Okay, maybe Felix didn’t deserve an award.
“Hell yeah,” he agreed, and then Chris was hauling him up, mouth back on him, on his jaw, on his neck, dragging him backwards to the bedroom, and Felix just went, letting Chris drown him all over again.