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We are all broken,
that's how the light gets in.

—Ernest Hemingway








I.








Sehun is balls deep in Junmyeon's ass, hand fisting his dick and mere moments away from the finish line, when the message goes off.

this is a requested standard notification that 901106 is experiencing emotional turmoil, thank you

The voice is monotone, inhuman, but that doesn't stop Junmyeon from sighing, his momentary high falling straight through the ground as Sehun picks just that moment to pull out, coming all over the front of his shirt.

"Sorry," he whispers apologetically, still catching his breath. Junmyeon rolls his eyes but whatever, he isn't going to finish now anyway; alerts about his dad are like a bucket of cold water to the libido.

"Toss me the tissues, okay?" He does the best he can, smearing the stuff around on his shirt before giving up and snagging one of Sehun's instead. He owes me one.

"Do you want me to come?" Sehun asks, brow furrowed in concern as he watches Junmyeon from the bed.

"You already did," Junmyeon points out, to which Sehun makes a face and throws a pillow at him. Junmyeon thinks about it, I might need the help, but considering the fact that Sehun is still naked from the waist down, long legs now tangled in the sweaty bedsheets, he decides not to take the time.

"I'll call you if I need you," he says, waving goodbye over one shoulder as the pneumatic door slides shut.

The walk to his house is short but it always feels too long when his dad is having an episode. Five steps, twenty steps, fifty steps . . Junmyeon hates it, hates seeing what the war has done to him.

"What's father's name?" he remembers asking the central console, back when he was a small child and didn't know any better.

Stockholms have no names. The artificial voice was unforgiving, unapologetic. The post-human identified via genetic material to be your father is designated 901106. And that was that.

You don't even have a name. Junmyeon is frowning as he presses his thumb against the pad to open the door, already bracing himself for the sound.

The screams are echoing off the walls.

He pulls earplugs away from the looped headphones around his neck and blessedly obstructs the worst of the agony, but the submental sound can't be blocked by anything except a subconscious block and he wouldn't do that, not to his own father. I hate what happened to you.

Opening the door to his father's bedroom, Junmyeon moves forward to try to wrestle the man who is his father—but only physically a few years older than him—into the washroom. Confined spaces and water help remind him that he is real, that he exists, that he isn't lost in time at the war at the end of the universe. Whatever that's about. His father's eyes are rolling in their sockets, a kind of pale faded blue, and it's so disturbing when he gets detached from this timestream and starts slipping—sometimes Junmyeon isn't sure how much more of this he can bear.

Living here, at the edge of the galaxy, away from the time currents and the greater politics of everything, he helps his father sell small hacks and supermental tweaks. It’s good business but mind-numbing in its repetition, and Junmyeon feels like he's choking in a fate he never chose. But his father will never be able to make it on his own, without someone to take care of him and fight him into the bathroom in the middle of one of his submental nightmares—the kind where the monsters are real.

His father's flailing arm, usually so weak, catches him on the cheek and his neck snaps back against the white tiles of the bathroom wall, vision exploding into white stars as his father falls forward onto the edge of the porcelain bathtub and cracks his head against the surface.

Junmyeon blinks.

There's red everywhere.

"I need help in here!" he shouts to the standard assist humanoid, impatiently listening to it humming over from whatever it was doing in the kitchen as, ears still ringing, Junmyeon fights to lower his father's limp body gently to the tile floor, examining his head for the wound and he’s thankful that it's only superficial. Head wounds bleed like a stuck dromedary, he remembers Sehun complaining one time when, as kids, they crashed their hover racers over the sand dunes past the border. The assist humanoid finally makes it to the bathroom, and Junmyeon tasks it with mending the loose skin flaps of his father's head wound; he can't bear to look at the titanium skull patches for very long or he'll lose the contents of his roiling stomach.

Fucking hypermentally-bonded titanium messing with my timestream.

He heads to his room to quickly change into a fresh shirt and pants, tossing the shirt in the garbage because he figures Sehun won't want it anymore anyway. I'll just buy you a new one. Junmyeon looks at himself in the mirrored door of his closet. Wide eyes, a bruised cheek, and blood splashes on his arms. Is this going to be the rest of my life? He turns away; the assist humanoid is probably done with the all-too-regularly necessary impromptu surgery.

His father is too light, fragile bones like a bird's and half carbon composite besides—translucent skin and veins hovering beneath the surface. Junmyeon tucks him gently into bed and turns on the music—after an episode, only Brahm's lullaby seems to be able to keep the monsters at bay. Setting the timer on the star lights hovering overhead, echoes of constellations he will never see, Junmyeon shuts the door softly behind him.

Goodnight, father.

How I wish things were different.

A notice beeps across his vision field—Sehun. Are you okay? Do you need me to come over?

Junmyeon is so tired. Not sleepy, but the kind of exhaustion that sinks into his bones and eats away at his marrow.

I'll come over instead, he replies. You owe me the end of that fuck. Buried in his best friend or vice versa is the only way he feels whole anymore. Swiping blindly for his helmet, he slides onto his hover racer and heads for Sehun's place.






Skin on skin, the sticky sensation of sweat standing out on his forehead, Junmyeon ignores everything, fingers clutching the sheets as he drags himself towards orgasm, towards forgetting, just for a moment—

everything white, humming, edges indistinct

—his mouth sucking at empty air, drawing in dust and heat and the faintest fumes from the hover parts dripping oil in the corner but he doesn't care, mind numb as he faintly feels Sehun stiffen over him, spine arching up as Junmyeon is filled with warmth.

A warmth that fades all too quickly, skin cooling and Sehun collapses, clammy against the stickiness of come on his stomach. Junmyeon feels stretched, pulled, out of place.

"Are you okay?" Sehun asks, rolling sideways to curl up beside Junmyeon on the bed. After another episode with his dad, the feeling only growing stronger each time, Junmyeon always feels like his cage is shrinking, bit by bit. Soon I won't be able to breathe at all.

"Why don't you leave?" he asks instead, and he doesn't even try to keep the yearning out of his voice. "You could go anywhere."

"But I like it here." Sehun stretches his arms out, sighing in contentment. "I like living here, and I have everything I want." He turns to Junmyeon again, and tucks his arm over, fingers running up and down Junmyeon's back. "You're the one who has dreams of the stars."

"I wish," Junmyeon says. But I can't, he doesn't add. There's no use saying the same things over and over and over again, not when it won't change anything.

But this time is different.

"Why not?" Sehun asks, furrowing his brow, and when Junmyeon simply turns over to stare at the wall, eyes tracing the tiny cracks, tracks of time that join and split and fragment into peeling paint, Sehun sits up and pulls Junmyeon back to look at him. "I've been thinking," Sehun says, and he looks so worried, so eager, that Junmyeon has to listen, to hope, just for a slip of time before reality will inevitably come pounding in. "Why can't you go?"

Junmyeon thinks about it for a moment, tracing the invisible stars above his head, imagining the smell of a ship, the strange feeling in his chest when they launch into space, the feeling of weightlessness, of letting everything go.

"I can't leave my dad," he says finally, falling back to earth.

"But can't the assists take care of him?" Sehun asks, his voice almost petulant. "You can message and everything, and keep in contact with the house system and surveillance, and I'll check in on him everyday. And the shop robots basically keep it running by itself." Junmyeon just looks at him, his best friend, who always manages to hurt him the most by offering too much. Even though they're the same age, sometimes Junmyeon feels so much older.

Cold.

"Are you going to run over every time the system messages you that he's having another episode?" Junmyeon asks, and when Sehun opens his mouth to protest, he lays a finger gently over his lips. The skin burns, where it touches. "This is my responsibility."

It's always strange, Junmyeon thinks, that when he's the one breaking, it's always Sehun who's crying.






It's a pretty good day for a change. The sun is shining through the window and his dad is sitting at the table, humming around the cereal he's eating, the assist humanoid only hovering to the side in case it's needed. Junmyeon scrolls through the shop logs but everything is in order, the shop robots run it themselves he remembers telling Sehun, and it's true.

"I'm going to go out for a bit," he tells his dad, managing to catch his eye. He looks pretty good today, better than he has in a while; his fingers aren't shivering around the spoon, pseudo-milk dripping down to splash into the bowl. The strange dragon etched into one wrist and the number marking the other don't stand out sharply on his skin, white like a lost memory, but rather they fade into the surface. Today he's present, and so—painfully, almost—here.

Almost.

901106 nods, blue eyes clear but blank, and gives a small smile like a conditioned muscle reflex. His body remembers Junmyeon but his mind doesn't.

"I love you," Junmyeon whispers, the words hanging in the empty air as the assist humanoid moves forward to clear away his abandoned dish of half-eaten cereal, soggy in the pseudo-milk mess at the bottom. We're always only half.

There's only silence in response.






Sehun isn't home. Junmyeon stands on the porch, dust between his toes, crawling down the back of his shirt, and the thought creeps into his mind, he won't always be here for you, you know. They're best friends, but best friends only go so far. Peering through the smoky glass panels in the front door, Junmyeon can only see strange silhouettes, pieces of a life he's not part of.

Hey Junmyeon, I hope everything is okay today
I'm going to town for the hover demo

Junmyeon looks at the message and tries not to feel lonely. Sehun has a life after all, things he likes to do to. Junmyeon just has his dad, and a shop run by robots who don't need him.

Fuck this. His dad looks okay today so he's going to do whatever he wants for a change. Live a little. He takes the magtrain to the city, fingers curled in the thin fabric of his t-shirt as he watches the ground zip by. Faster.






There's a comforting presence in being part of a crowd, not me alone but a large, jubilant, chaotic us. Junmyeon enfolds himself in the air exhaled by strangers, listens to their beautiful cacophony of languages he doesn't understand, even when the subsonic thoughts are pitched too clear sometimes—random snatches of I'm hungry and that Wisean is so hot I wish she'd fuck me already. It makes him feel alive.

His favourite place is the planetarium, show after show of different galaxies, so many possibilities. The universe is a huge place. Junmyeon relaxes into the plush velvet of the seat and lets the tense muscles of his neck relax slowly, as the stars swirl through the sky. If he closes his eyes halfway, takes long lingering breaths, he can almost pretend.

Freedom.






this is a requested standard notification that 901106 is experiencing emotional turmoil, thank you

Junmyeon wakes disoriented, skin chilled because his arms are bare and where am I? he looks around, head turning wildly this way and that as stars swirl above his head in the dark and then he realizes, sweat standing out on his forehead as his fingers clutch at the fabric-covered plastic of the armrests. I'm still in the city.

His father is at home.

All of a sudden, everything is moving to quietly and yet far far too slowly, like in a dream where he's being chased by something he's too scared to even turn around and look at, feet dragged down by invisible sand or water or the clutching fingers of skeletons, whispers that he'll never make it.

I'll never make it. He calls Sehun.

"Sehun I need your help."

Sehun's voice is hard to make out, there's muffled shouting in the background and maybe a display buzzing, metal and plastic and glass clinking together as Sehun tries to speak above the noise.

"What's wrong?" His tone is a complete 360 from the light "Hello" he picked up with.

"I'm in the city and my dad's having an episode," Junmyeon says, running up steps because he's too panicked to wait for the elevator, his heart racing in his chest, beating frantically against his ribcage. Your fault your fault your fault his footsteps shout at him as they hit each step, his muscles clenching in the strain.

"Junmyeon, I'm in town!" Sehun's voice is moving, there's the sound of a pneumatic door swishing and then the background noise is suddenly cut off and replaced by rain, the slight sonic static disrupting the connection. Junmyeon swallows, hard, there's a rusty taste at the back of his throat. He'd thought everything would be okay, his dad was fine when he'd left, better than ever but that's always the calm before the storm, isn't it?

"Just, can you go there as fast as you can?" Junmyeon asks, a tremor in his voice that he doesn't even try to hide; his eyes are so dry they're burning and he has no idea how long he was in the planetarium. He's too busy running to check.

"I'm on my way," Sehun says, and ends the call, but not before the sound of the hover engine warming up fills the sonic waves. The noise is sharp, cutting through his mindshields, and time hiccups for a moment. Stop.

He doesn't know what happens at the end of the world, but when he looks at his father, he doesn't think anything can possibly have been worth it.






The magtrain is so slow, going home in the dark, only the small pools of light keeping out the night as they crawl towards home. Junmyeon can't keep his legs from twitching anxiously, knees hopping up and down, teeth worrying at his bottom lip until he can taste dull iron. He wants to call Sehun so badly but it's not going to help anything, only slow Sehun down. Junmyeon looks out the window instead and tries to spot the stars, but the sky is obstructed by clouds as water hits the plascreen of the windows. Please be okay. He's not sure whether he's asking it of his father or of himself.

His feet hit the ground running, sand between his toes as always and he's dragged down by the soft ground; it's like his dreams all over again except it's real. He leans forward and fights against the pull, step step step and he doesn't even notice the water hitting his back, pooling in the collarbones, soaking his hair to drip down into his eyes.

Please be okay.

The light's on but that's all he can tell from a distance as his wet shoes slap against the stone of the front steps and the door knob skips over his mental pattern before letting him in, as the door flies open against the wall with the force of his entrance.

"Sehun?" he calls because his dad doesn't have a name and won't answer anyway. The thought is bitter on his tongue.

There's blood on the ground in the kitchen and Junmyeon can't breathe, the knot of fear is so tightly lodged in his chest by now that it's pressing against his throat and he can't speak, just like in nightmares when he screams and screams and nothing comes out.

There's a rustling sound and then Sehun pokes his head around the doorframe of his father's bedroom, head searching around for Junmyeon, standing in the hallway.

"Oh you made it!" he says, and smiles brightly, as Junmyeon just stands there and tries not to fall apart. "He's fine, he just had a moment and bumped his nose against the assist as it tried to keep him from falling, it's fine!" Junmyeon just stands there, unable to move, and Sehun realizes something is wrong, walking over quietly, feet tapping gently against the floor as he wraps his arms around Junmyeon, who finally lets the tears swim into his eyes and grey out his vision.

The cage is so close now, so tightly wrapped around his chest.

They end up in his room, Sehun with his pants off, legs wrapped around Junmyeon's waist as he thrusts into him frantically, Sehun raising himself to meet the downward strokes as he leans on his elbows, slipping on the sheets, Junmyeon's arm on the headboard trying to keep them steady as he feels Sehun's ass fluttering around his dick, the warm tightness the only thing grounding him right now. He tries to empty his head, push the thoughts out with every thrust, but they just keep spilling back, more and more and more and by the time he's spilling into Sehun whose neck is arching back as he moans his release to the star patterns lighting the ceiling with tiny glitters of light, Junmyeon can't untangle his thoughts at all. He pulls out and knots himself up in the blankets, burying his face in the pillow as his shoulders shake with sobs.

"Junmyeon," Sehun says, rolling over and running warm fingers over his back, their skin separated only by the thin material of the sheet. "Junmyeon." Junmyeon can't answer. Sehun stays, and Junmyeon just wants to leave.

But he can't.






There's a strange inquiry on the shop logs, someone looking for a small glitch hack, standard procedure and they have plenty of those, but the ship is—off. Junmyeon can't quite explain it.

Can I see the ship? he messages, though it hurts every time, helping people who only fly away.

Coordinates?

Junmyeon replies with an empty field close to the hover track. He's not sure what the person flies, but this is probably good enough for anything under a battle class and he really doubts that one of those would be in this sector of the galaxy, even if it had been flung out on an errant timestream.

His dad is sitting on the porch, watching the flowers grow, the assist perched on the steps, and Junmyeon's not going far.

"I'll be back soon," he tells his dad, and presses a small kiss to his temple, eyes flickering away from the vacant blue reflecting the white swirls of cloud streaming through the sky. It's windy and the sun is in his eyes.

By the time he gets to the field, a fine sweat already standing out on his forehead because the sun is warm today, the potential customer is already there, and now Junmyeon knows why the specs were so strange. He mentally slaps himself on the forehead, but there's a strange buzzing in his ears and he's not sure whether he's more scared or excited.






It's a cutter. They don't exist yet. Junmyeon doesn't know what to think—it's not like they're illegal and yet—what's a cutter doing here?

He's never scene a cutter before; never even dreamed of seeing one. There's a kind of buzzing whiteness in his head, as he sees a figure approach from the shadows of the ship, because it's black of course, space camouflage. This is someone. Someone from the war.

Someone who didn't come back broken. Someone who has a name. What are they doing here?

And as the figure approaches, the black cloak obscuring their face, he wonders, and how can I leave with them?






Zitao is nice. He smiles, from under the hood, pushing it back a little but apologizing for keeping it up.

"The sun here is really harsh," he explains, smiling, and Junmyeon's stomach flip flops. Zitao has gorgeous golden skin and it looks like the sun has already been trapped in the glow. Junmyeon is staring too much, he knows it, but there's something about the man. . .

You've been to end, Junmyeon thinks. You've seen the stars.

". . .I think that's the issue," Zitao finishes, and looks at Junmyeon expectantly. Junmyeon blinks.

"You have dreams about space?" Zitao says, and then grins to take away the sting. Of course he can read subsonic thought patterns. Junmyeon groans silently, and tries to patch his neglected shields. He's so used to being on his own.

"It's okay," Zitao says, "those won't work anyway." Junmyeon looks at him, puzzled, but Zitao waves the subject away. "It's getting hot, and I'd like to get going," he continues.

Junmyeon doesn't know why the thought hurts more than it should.






It's not difficult to adjust the patch, the problem was that it was for systems currently in existence and the cutter, of course, isn't. But 901106 has the right sonic waste patterns and when Junmyeon uses some of that mopped up leakage the hack works right away, just like it's supposed to.

"I guess I should start doing this myself, " Zitao says, snapping his screen shut. "It's hard to remember, sometimes, all these little things." The sun is falling lower in the sky, dark and deep orange as the bottom grazes the mountains. Light falls almost horizontally, splashing the man's neck and face with carmine light.

"It's not hard," Junmyeon agrees, distracted, "You just need the right sources." Zitao is getting ready to leave and Junmyeon. . .Junmyeon just wants him to stay. There's a shadow pooling behind Zitao's collarbones and there's glimpse of something dark as his neckline scoops down briefly, tucking his screen away. Some kind of shield?

"Why are you in this sector anyway?" Junmyeon finally asks, after rolling his bottom lip around between his teeth and trying to look everywhere else but at Zitao, a completely fruitless endeavor. It's not just because he's new either, though strangers are a novelty out here.

"I sell dreams," Zitao replies, as though he’s saying he sells hover parts or even rare imported fruit. Junmyeon just stands there, thoughts spinning through his head, mirroring the clouds racing by in the wind.

He sells dreams. What is that supposed to mean? And the thought skips through his head before he can stuff it away out of habit, though his shields are useless. Can you set me free? Zitao looks up, and Junmyeon looks away, red dusting his cheeks in silent embarrassment.

"You have a question," Zitao says, and the pause after his words is expectant. The sun is still sinking and the light is shining in Junmyeon's eyes now. He can't see the stranger very well at all against the glare. Somehow that makes it easier to uncage the words he's bottling up in his chest.

"Have you ever sold dreams to a Stockholm," Junmyeon says quietly, not really a question, his words mixing with the dust that hangs in the air because today the poles are shifting. It's autumn—spring won't come for a long time.

Zitao looks at him, and there's a shift in his eyes when Junmyeon peers up through his eyelashes. He looks, older or something, even though he's never looked exactly right somehow. More than being a stranger in this place, here at the edge of the universe, it's more like Zitao doesn't belong in this time, and when Junmyeon lets himself slip inside and tries to peer sideways at the man beneath the black robes and swirling space, a feeling of nausea hits him.

"Don't," Zitao says, lifting a hand that hovers above Junmyeon's arm but doesn't quite touch, as there's a shift in the air, a kind of wind that's not physical but submental, and Junmyeon feels his feet heavy, back on the ground, though they’d never left it. He blinks.

Is that what dad feels like?

"Worse," Zitao says, but when Junmyeon looks up his eyes are shuttered now. "I'll see what I can do," he says instead, and beckons Junmyeon onward.






Zitao won't climb onto the hover racer, only gesturing Junmyeon to get on with it, and as he climbs onto the seat and starts the drag, he tries not to think about why, or look too closely at Zitao who keeps pace with him easily and yet doesn't seem to be running, though the hover is definitely not walking speed.

Are you done with the job? Sehun's message comes up. Junmyeon ignores it.

901106 is sitting on the porch as the hover racer draws up; Junmyeon is sweating slightly, even though the sun has almost set, streaks of green and purple painting the sky. But Zitao isn't even breathing heavily. It doesn't matter.

"Hi dad," Junmyeon says, but his dad doesn't answer, or even look in his direction. He's blinking rapidly, staring out over the mountains, but Junmyeon's pretty sure that his dad is seeing something very different.

"Don't," Zitao says, snapping a finger in front of 901106's gaze, and there's a strange sucking in the air, something not quite visible—

Junmyeon's heart skips. . .a half-step as time shifts, he can feel it beneath his skin like an invisible force in opposition to gravity, and then he blinks and everything is the same.

His father is still looking at nothing, pale blue eyes reflecting the light, but there's nothing there, just mountains.

"I might have a dream," Zitao says. When he says dream, Junmyeon hears the word but his mind interprets it as something else that doesn't have a shape in his language. In any language.

Yes, he hears, feels, and there's no one here who's talking, but the subsonic agreement vibrates in his bones.

"Can you bring him back?" Junmyeon asks, even though he's not sure what he's asking, but Zitao shakes his head.






Where are you?
I'm coming over

Junmyeon looks at the message from Sehun; the words are just letters stuck together to make phrases. Zitao is looking, not at the screen still tucked away, but rather into himself, his pupils flickering from side to side as though he's flipping through something that doesn't exist. Here.

"What are you doing?" Junmyeon asks, but Zitao doesn't answer. Instead, he pulls out a chair, the sound of the legs scraping across the floor somehow too large for the space, and sits down in a kitchen that doesn't feel quite all there, as his dad sits across from him and doesn't see him.

Junmyeon is used to being invisible.






Zitao stands up. There an undercurrent, not of wind but something else; Junmyeon feels his shields slipping as something that's not light leaks around the edges. There's an object shining on Zitao's hand, Junmyeon can't quite see it—the shape is blurred as the flow of time bends.

He lifts his hand to 901106's forehead but doesn't quite touch.

For a moment, it looks like—there's a shadow behind his dad, a current like wings unfurling, a shadow that's not dark cast against the wall—and then the light that isn't light dims, and Junmyeon blinks. It's just his kitchen, just a space with four walls, a ceiling and floor, no bigger or smaller than it ever has been or ever will be.

Junmyeon opens his mouth to ask and then he notices.

His dad is sleeping, shoulders rising and falling gently as his head leans against the back of the chair. Under the thin skin of his eyelids, such fragile paper, a network of gossamer veins in smudged blue, his eyes are still.

He's smiling, just a little.

Junmyeon feels a lump in his throat. His dad is smiling, really smiling, not just muscle memory or a jarred reflex, for the first time that he can remember.

"What did you do?" he whispers, still watching his dad, chest moving steadily as the air slips out of his mouth with a soft sigh, not the kind that scratches on the way out but the kind that speaks of happiness.

Don't wake up.

The thought surprises him, in a way that hurts a little, but it's true.

"He's just dreaming," Zitao explains, his voice also hushed, though Junmyeon gets the feeling that it's more out of respect than fear of actually waking the sleeper. "He's dreaming about childhood." A tear slips out of 901106's eye at the words, and Junmyeon feels wetness pooling in his eyes, as if in response.

Before the war.






There's the muffled sound of drag that shudders to a stop, crunching and the door slides open. Sehun has always been wired for access. Junmyeon looks up, his head swimming for a moment; he's been sitting in one place for too long. Across from him, Zitao is standing, and there's already a sense of departure, as Sehun arrives, slightly out of breath, shoulders heaving a little as he's framed by the doorway.

It looks, for a moment, like there's sun in his hair.

"What's going on?" he asks, too loudly, and Junmyeon slips out of his seat to press a hand to his best friend's mouth, whisper in his ear.

"Zitao sells dreams." It makes sense to him but Sehun looks suspicious, peering over Junmyeon to see the stranger standing by the table.

"Who are you?" His voice is not exactly friendly. Junmyeon blinks, it always surprises him, this side of Sehun. But he feels safe, grounded. This is a body I know.

"I'm Zitao," Zitao says, and Junmyeon gets a close up view of Sehun blinking, feels the shift in the air. Your shields have always been better than mine.

"Hi," Sehun says, still not exactly friendly, but he's no longer frowning as he steps around Junmyeon and walks into the kitchen. "I'm Sehun." Zitao nods, inclining his head politely. Sehun is shorter than the stranger; Junmyeon is used to Sehun being so tall but it's not true.

901106 is taller.

Sehun stops in front of Junmyeon's dad and looks at him for a moment. There's a kind of soft expression on his face, the kind that Junmyeon only sees when Sehun is looking at things like baby animals, or the little pink desert flowers that peer out between the thorns after it rains.

"Is it a good dream?" he asks, after a moment, turning to look at Zitao, but his voice hushed now. Zitao nods. "How long will it last?"

"Forever," Zitao says. "Even after he wakes and sleeps again."

It feels like a weight has been lifted off of Junmyeon's shoulders, hearing the words. Sehun turns to him, a small smile on his face. The last traces of sunlight sink behind the mountains, pale gold fading from the corona around his dad's head.

"Thanks for the glitch hack," Zitao says, footsteps falling softly on the ground, his black cloak already fading into the shadows. His voice is muffled, like he's already saying goodbye, and Junmyeon—

no!

—there's a pull from deep inside his chest, not a fluttering but a deeper kind of ache, his feet moving unconsciously as Sehun looks at him in a puzzlement that quickly turns to alarm as Junmyeon steps faster and faster and then his arm is outstretched, fingers spread as he reaches forward, the current of time or whatever it is around Zitao twisting, buzzing under his skin as Zitao ducks, arm flying up and the ring on his finger that's not shining this time but rather a darker, sharper kind of black connects with the skin of Junmyeon's chest, neckline pulled down by the disruption that's not in the air but rather in the fabric of existence.

There's a sudden crack, not a sound but rather the absence of it in Junmyeon's head, as his chest burns and the air is punched out of his lungs—a vacuum taking its place.

His shields are in complete ruins and as his eyes flicker shut, he sees, not Zitao, but a light that's not a light, taller and brighter than the man-shaped space it's supposed to fit.