Donghyuck only takes customers upon referral. He's too busy with his own stuff to worry about helping others all the time. He hides his shop, he closes his blinds, and he only opens up if people know the right words.
"Sicheng sent me," says this stranger, his foot stopping Donghyuck from closing the door in his face.
People say a lot of words to Donghyuck, but those words are good enough. With a sigh, he unlocks the chain and lets the stranger inside. "Come in."
His shop is messy because it isn't meant to be a shop. He lives here. He sleeps here. There's a half-eaten cake on the side table that he hasn't cleaned up for the past two days. It doesn't matter. Donghyuck doesn't often get visitors.
In fact, Donghyuck never gets visitors here. This place barely exists. If someone wants to see him, they have to try very hard. This man looks a bit haggard, and his eyes are wide as he stares at Donghyuck, and Donghyuck has the impression this man has no idea what he's gotten himself into.
"You can help me?" he asks. Aside from how lost he looks, the man is well put together. His hair is freshly cut and his outfit looks expensive — far too expensive for casual clothing, in Donghyuck's opinion. Then again the shirt under Donghyuck's robe has a stain on it and hasn't been washed since the last time he wore it.
Donghyuck knows his own worth. He looks at the customer over his shoulder. "Probably." He grins. The way the stranger stares is affirming. Something in the other room makes a strange noise, and the stranger looks for the sound in alarm. Donghyuck is hardly bothered. "Sicheng is too smart to send you here otherwise."
He makes his way back into the kitchen, uncaring of whether the man blunders behind or not. His place is pretty basic, nothing of interest beyond the clutter, but it doesn't mean that Donghyuck doesn't take precautions against ill-will. Still, the man stumbles after Donghyuck, and Donghyuck makes a bee-line to the stove. The pot is hissing, high and bright, and Donghyuck opens the lid and peers inside.
"Sit," he says, waving a hand over his shoulder absently while he lowers the heat. "Are you dying?"
The man does not sit. He hovers, a lumbering shadow. "Ah..." He touches his chest, as if he's checking his body is still there. "No."
"Then wait." Donghyuck stirs the pot until the hiss turns into a song and sets it to simmer. "Some things are time sensitive in this line of work."
Donghyuck looks over his shoulder. "Yes, magic."
The man's eyes sparkle as he watches the witch work. "This isn't a hoax, is it?"
"You have a problem you think magic can solve," Donghyuck says plainly. He's met plenty of non-believers, and even more half-believers who call Donghyuck a fraud for their own peace of mind. "If you're being fooled, you've done it to yourself."
There are bottles sitting in Donghyuck's sink, pretty glass, but they're dirty and need to be washed before they can be used. It doesn't matter. Donghyuck can move the pot off the heat and leave the potion inside and clean it up later. The heat is all that matters.
Not only is this time sensitive, but the unexpected guest threw off Donghyuck's concentration. He's lost track of the seconds — this is what he gets for not setting a timer. With a sigh, Donghyuck picks a petal off the daisy on his windowsill and drops it into the bubbling pot. The corners crinkle, more like a potato chip than anything so romantic as a flower, and Donghyuck fishes it out with a spoon and a disapproving click of his tongue. "A little longer."
The stranger still has not taken a seat. He stands awkwardly in the doorway, eyes piercing into Donghyuck's back with unusual intensity. He doesn't know what to do with his hands. "What exactly are you trying to do?"
"Work in peace," Donghyuck snips, rather prim, but it's full of hot air. He wouldn't have let the man inside if he was really upset about it, and Donghyuck has bills to pay. Sure, usually he bribes the landlord with youth instead of rent, but a little green paper never runs amiss. "This will kill you if not cooked long enough."
"Like bad fish."
Donghyuck laughs, smiling at the stranger. "Deadly pufferfish magic."
It's funny; the stranger looks stricken. Completely and utterly stricken, red in the face. He doesn't even laugh. "May I sit?"
"I already told you you could." Donghyuck waves a lazy hand towards the barstools. "Listen more closely, hmm? Let me prepare my pufferfish in silence."
It doesn't take much longer. Donghyuck doesn't actually want to kill anyone, but magic doesn't always allow for double checking, so the moment the petal drops and disappears in the swirling murky blue, Donghyuck pulls it off the heat and sticks it in the ice bath he'd prepared earlier. "Let her cool," he sings to himself, setting the concoction on the cookie rack next to his stove. The pot sings in reply.
"Is it supposed to do that?" the stranger asks.
"I don't think so," Donghyuck admits. The customers usually don't ask questions — normally they'd rather die than look at anything too closely. Small human sanity, so fragile. "But pots aren't supposed to do much more than hold liquids. As long as it does that, I'll allow whatever."
Donghyuck taps his fingers on the counter, hand on his hip, and looks at the man shrewdly. It's hard to look intimidating in an old robe and bedhead, but there's a power in Donghyuck that very few people have and he likes other people to notice. "What's your name?"
The stranger straightens as soon as Donghyuck turns in his direction, like a dog waiting for an order. It's endearing, if not slightly misplaced. Donghyuck has better things to do than coddle humans. "I'm...Johnny."
There's a moment of silence while Donghyuck cleans up the mess around his stove and waits for the man to get to the root of things. Donghyuck isn't here to pull teeth. He's done that before and it's messy and gross. Never again.
Mildly surprising. "Donghyuck." The witch throws the dirty spoon in the sink with the rest of his dishes. He'll wash them tomorrow before they start to smell, but he's tired now. Tomorrow. "Are you going to tell me why you're here?"
Johnny chews on his lip. It's attractive, in an endearing way. He's attractive, now that Donghyuck is paying more attention. He's tall enough that he dwarfs Donghyuck, even sitting down, and his hair is combed back out of his face like he has somewhere to be. "I...am cursed."
Oh? Donghyuck likes curses. "Why'd you even bother going to Sicheng?" Sicheng only works with material magic — charms, runes, sachets. Psychical things that one would make or purchase, but never anything that interacts with pre-existing spells or unnatural magic. He doesn't do custom jobs for newbies, either.
"He was easier to find," Johnny admits. "My friend knew a guy who knew him. Said he'd healed a broken heart, and he'd be able to help me."
Sicheng imbues magic into items, usually glass because he's pretentious. "That's not exactly how it works," Donghyuck says. Sicheng probably gave the customer something to make it easier for him to move on, but curses are different than heartbreak. "Nothing Sicheng could give you would help."
"You don't even know what's wrong with me."
Donghyuck rolls his eyes. "Curses are all essentially the same. Same filling, different decoration." That's an understatement; curses are actually one of the hardest things to create and to break, which is why Donghyuck likes working with them so much. But the methods they use to victimize their target is similar. They sink down deep and invite black magic in. "But you can tell me what ails you or whatever, if that will make you feel better."
There are many reasons Donghyuck doesn't get a lot of customers. The major one is that he doesn't like them, but another is that he's not the most compassionate person when it comes to minor inconveniences of the magical variety. He'll admit he's been surrounded by magic for too long — he knows how it works. There's never been a problem he couldn't solve when it came to his craft, and as far as outside obstacles go, magic has made everything easily overcome. So no, Donghyuck is not very sympathetic that suddenly your dog is talking and it's been very stressful. Donghyuck does not care that your door decided to only open if you tell it a joke. Donghyuck has bigger things to deal with.
It doesn't help that many clientele already know about magic and thus have some exposure to the study of it. He gets a lot of crappy witches trying to get someone else to fix their messes. Donghyuck doesn't even open his door for them anymore. Send them to a bleeding heart like Taeyong, or a fixer like Kun, and leave Donghyuck alone. He doesn't like laziness unless it's his own, and he's never lazy with his work.
Of course, there are times when Donghyuck deals with the inherently unmagical. Johnny himself feels particularly mundane in the magic department. There's no buzzing of energy. There's no spark of power. He's nervous, that's certain, and there's an anxious hum that Donghyuck can hear if he listens closely, but as far as the unnatural goes there's nothing. Or rather, nothing of Johnny's own.
If Donghyuck listens very closely he can hear it...that off-key ringing that is against Johnny's general color. It is deep inside, firmly nestled, a sign that this curse has been lingering for longer than Donghyuck likes. It's not destructive; if this was meant to kill it would have by now. Bad curses are like appendicitis — you wait a week and you're done. This magic has found a home for well over a month now.
The curious part of Donghyuck wonders if the magic is subtle. There are no outward effects to Johnny's body. Sure, Johnny's face turns red and his heart races a little bit, but perhaps Johnny is just a nervous person. Perhaps Johnny is uncomfortable with Donghyuck's singing cookware. Perhaps there are a lot of things.
Donghyuck rakes his eyes up and down, and when he makes eye contact with the customer again he raises an eyebrow.
"I'm cursed to fall in love with everyone I see," Johnny says, his heart racing.
"Oh." Donghyuck laughs, delighted. "Isn't that a fun trick?"
When Donghyuck asks if Johnny is in love with him, Johnny says yes and he laughs about it.
"That's good news for me," Donghyuck jokes, letting his robe slip off one shoulder to reveal more of his wrinkled t-shirt. "You're my type."
The sound that Johnny makes afterwards might have convinced Donghyuck he was inhuman if the witch didn't know any better.
Tormenting his clients is a fun game, especially when lives aren't on the line (although Donghyuck won't say he hasn't teased a dying man or two, but he's never lost a customer). Johnny doesn't make it particularly easy, though, despite the fun sounds he makes.
In fact, Johnny seems to be generally at peace with his ailment; or at least he's repressing it well.
"I'm a romantic person," Johnny says, once Donghyuck asks him about it. They've moved into Donghyuck's actual workroom where he keeps all of his supplies. Johnny has taken off his expensive casualwear and is sitting on Donghyuck's table. His chest is nice. His body is clearly something he works on. Donghyuck thinks that having a very attractive man in love with him isn't such a plight for a day or two, if it even takes him that long to break the magic.
It's pretty firmly rooted, right under Johnny's rib cage. Donghyuck has his hand flat on Johnny's bare chest. At first it was fun to listen to Johnny's stuttered breathing — just how infatuated does this curse make him? Donghyuck should ask whenever everything is finished — but he's in his element now. There's a certain art to curse work that needs to be appreciated. This one in particular is peculiar.
Witches usually have a signature. It's not something they cultivate, necessarily; for some people being recognizable can lead to their demise, but there is a certain flair for the dramatic all magical beings share. That manifests in different ways, and usually there's something telling in a spell. A strange color or flavor or sound, the way one can hear footsteps and know who it is. Recognition requires having prior knowledge of their work, but Donghyuck has a wide range of experience; there are very few quality curse workers Donghyuck has not encountered.
This spell is shoddy. It's poorly made but powerful, almost angry, definitely desperate. It's strange. Donghyuck rarely sees desperation in spells that are so benign. The entire thing gives the impression of someone putting Legos together and ending up with something that accidentally makes sense.
The desperation makes things difficult. The magic will not dislodge, no matter how much Donghyuck calls to it.
"Hmm." He chews on the inside of his cheek. He stares at the magic and wills it to swirl around his fingers. When it refuses, he looks at his client. "Do you know who did this to you?"
Johnny's face goes dark and gloomy, like a cartoon. His face in general is unreal. He looks a bit fake, like Pygmalion making something beautiful out of clay just to fall in love. "No."
He doesn't elaborate but it's evident he's holding back, and Donghyuck quirks his mouth. "Okay. Do you know why?"
"I can assume." Johnny sighs so heavily, and the magic moves with him. It's strange. It's like a pet, wanting to appease, wanting to be affirmed. "It wasn't...it has not had the intended effect, I think."
Donghyuck leans back in his chair, looking up at the giant human on his work table. "What was the intended effect?"
Averted eyes. "I can only make assumptions."
"So make them."
Johnny still seems hesitant.
Donghyuck grins, eating shit, and looks at him through his lashes.
"That isn't fair," Johnny says with a frown, almost whining.
"You blush with your whole body," Donghyuck observes, watching the flush make its way down.
"This was a mistake." Johnny covers his face with his hands, heaves an enormous sigh, but Donghyuck is very cute when he wants to be and is not ethically above taking advantage to get his way. "I...they wanted me to fall in love with them, not necessarily anyone."
That aligns with what Donghyuck sees. "You probably got caught by a rookie, to be honest." Donghyuck absently taps Johnny's chest with his fingertips. No practiced magician would make a curse like this. It's too wild, uncontrollable, and quite greedy. "But if that really was their intention, I doubt they would have gotten a good outcome even if they were extremely capable." Donghyuck twists his mouth. "Magic doesn't like true love."
A soft furrow to Johnny's brow, and a legitimate question — "I thought true love broke curses?"
"It does, sometimes." Donghyuck chews on his thumb, running through theory. True love's kiss is a powerful ingredient anywhere in its timeline, but it's also a bitch to work with. "It's like oil and water. They don't mix well."
True love dissolves unnatural magic. There's natural magic in the air, sure, but that's not something that mere mortals — or even immortals — can tap into. The attempt to create true love out of nothing backfired and created...this.
Donghyuck taps his fingers one last time on Johnny's chest and then stands up out of his chair. The work room is not large enough to pace, but he doesn't want to be staring at Johnny's nipples while he's trying to focus. "Tell me specifics."
"Um." Johnny swings his feet like he is a child and not a fully grown adult man. If he scratches the wood of Donghyuck's desk he can consider this cure gone for good. "How specific do you want?"
"I bet you're a real pain in the ass when you go to the doctor's office." Donghyuck huffs, running a hand through his hair. "Just...anything." He crosses his arms. "Why did it take you so long to come in? I'm assuming you only went to Sicheng recently." The other witch usually calls ahead when he sends people Donghyuck's way, but he often forgets until he sits down at the end of the week. "What gives?"
"I...don't know?" Johnny rubs his face tired and then looks at anything other than Donghyuck. He looks at the small collection of plants on Donghyuck's windowsill. He looks at the hanging jar lights coming down from the rickety ceiling. He looks at the massive burn mark that Donghyuck desperately tried covering up with an ornate rug his gran bought him at the flea market. "How long have I had it? Can you tell?"
Donghyuck purses his mouth and is only mildly flattered when Johnny stares at it — there's magic involved, after all, but a little ego stroking never hurt anyone too badly. "It's been...probably over a month." He can only consider the growth and the degree to which it's nestled, but it isn't an exact number. He has no idea what this kind of spell looked like at the beginning because he's never seen it before. He can only base it off of the standard love spells he's seen.
Still, Johnny's face goes even darker. "That long?"
"You couldn't tell?"
"That was the problem." Johnny scratches his cheek and looks far away. "I interact with the same people all the time, and I've had...you know. Crushes. I've had crushes before. I thought it was like, Libra season or something."
"Are all of the people around you hot?" Donghyuck asks skeptically. "You didn't like, fall in love with the auntie at the grocery store and think 'hmm, maybe this is odd'?"
"I'm—" Johnny laughs. It's cute. "Yes, all the people around me are hot. And I won't say that I fall in love easily, but I like pretty people. Small crushes aren't out of the ordinary. And I never, like...they didn't last long? The crushes don't stack. I like one person and then I turn the corner and like that person, so it's more like I'm just admiring my coworkers all the time in quick succession."
Donghyuck snickers. "That has to be good for workplace morale." It's good to know they don't overlap. If that's the case, the original curse probably was intended to target someone specific instead of causing Johnny mild inconvenience. "You don't have any like, jealous ex-girlfriends that might still be madly in love with you?" If Donghyuck can catch the witch who did this, he'd have an easier time of things.
Johnny hesitates again. "Well...you see—" Full stop and full blown panic.
"God, are you a player?" Donghyuck twists his mouth in a cold sneer. "Are there too many?"
"Excuse me, no." Johnny holds his hands out in surrender. "I've barely even dated."
Donghyuck knows this game. "How many people have you fucked, though?"
Bright red. "That's..."
"I'm not shaming you or anything." Donghyuck looks at Johnny closely and huffs. From his cabinet he starts pulling herbs down, things to clear the mind and protect against dark desires. The glass rattles against the table. "Although if you had fewer people as suspects that would be helpful."
"It's not that I've dated a lot of people or gotten around a lot," Johnny says. "I mean, my job doesn't let me date much, so I have gotten around a little, but those people were in similar situations. There's never been, you know, strings attached."
Donghyuck narrows his eyes. Johnny may be cursed to be in love with everyone he sees, but it's not an infatuated kind of love either. If the spell was targeted towards devotion it missed its mark — Johnny has no problem talking back to Donghyuck. The likelihood that this was meant to simulate a real, natural love is ever growing, but the desperation in the craftsmanship still leaves a lot of questions.
Donghyuck can see how someone might fall so in love with Johnny that they do something foolish. He has a nice feeling about him, even when his shirt was on. With the shirt off, Donghyuck can definitely understand.
"Okay, then what's the problem?" Donghyuck asks, leaning against his medicine cabinet, a jar of old soil in one hand. It won't help Johnny at all, but he pulled it out and doesn't want to put it back.
"I'm an idol," Johnny says, after a moment. "Half of my fans are in love with me."
And the surprise of it all makes Donghyuck laugh. "Oh, darling." He bites off his grin. It's not seemly to find humor in the misfortune of others. "You certainly got yourself into a bind."
Celebrity clients are so funny. They're always running on imaginary schedules, they interact with a million people a day, and they have no concept of the real world.
This entire time, Johnny has been surprisingly calm. He's taken all of the idiosyncrasies fairly well up until now, hardly missed a step, but there's frustration rolling off him. "I didn't realize how..." He scoffs, shaking his head. He curls up his fists. "We had a concert. I was like, hyperfocusing on every single person in the front row — any time I looked at anyone, I wanted to know everything about them." He rolls his eyes at himself, mouth a frustrated line. "I'm not like that. I don't get attached like that. It was fine when it was the staff I respect, or my peers, like that's normal. But...something is wrong with me."
"Okay, okay, don't cry," Donghyuck snips, because if this man starts crying Donghyuck truly won't know what to do.
"I won't cry." Johnny looks at Donghyuck dead in the eyes, and he's angry. He's so angry. It looks nice on him. "I want this fixed."
It's quiet for a moment, while Donghyuck processes all of this. "Are you in another relationship now?" Donghyuck asks. He takes out a piece of paper and scribbles notes. If Johnny is serious, then Donghyuck owes it to him to be serious as well, at least for a moment. "Has this changed your relationship with them?"
"No," Johnny says. "I'm not in a relationship. It's been a long time since I've been in one."
"How does this feeling compare to falling in love before?"
"I mean." Johnny thinks, wonders, and the gears turning are very loud. "It's different with each person, but honestly I've tried to limit who I'm with to the bare minimum so I don't do anything foolish."
Donghyuck hums, looks out the window. The sun is almost down. There are other things Donghyuck needs to do today. "Okay, then, with me." He looks at Johnny sidelong. "We've been sitting together for about an hour now. How does that compare to the other times you've been in natural love?"
Johnny looks him over. His eyes are very soft, a warm amber, and Donghyuck doesn't usually see that fondness in strangers. It might make him squirm under other circumstances, that bizarre disconnect, but he's here with a purpose."It's...very similar," Johnny says, still soft.
Donghyuck sees how this man is an idol. If he was a tweenie bopper his heart would be shaking. "Elaborate, please." Eyes on the paper. "For my ego, you know."
"Well..." Johnny tugs at the ends of his hair. "Isn't love kind of hard to explain?"
"I'm not asking you for the secrets to the universe, here," Donghyuck reminds him, clicking the top of his pen once or twice and looking at the ingredients he's pulled out of the cabinet. He doesn't think he'll get to use them much today. "Just a comparison."
"It feels...it doesn't feel like new love." Johnny closes his eyes and tilts his head towards the ceiling. "It's old and steady like, I want to know about your day and live together and have a family. I want to be together."
That has more of an effect than Donghyuck thought it would. "Alright." He puts a palm to his face. Maybe he is a tweenie bopper. "Enough of that. Have any of them been...new love, like you said, or are they all similar?"
"It varies," Johnny says, after thinking for a moment. "It depends, but I don't think I've paid enough attention to find a pattern."
"That's alright." Donghyuck is more excited to tackle this than he'll allow himself to admit. "If there's a pattern, maybe we'll find it." He grins. "Or maybe I'll break it down before we have the chance."
Johnny smiles at him, a little sad, and Donghyuck wonders how awkward it is to confess your love to someone you just met. "I hope so."
"Well." Donghyuck claps his hands, and the lights flicker. "Let's see if we can isolate that parasitic heart, hmm?"
"This is so annoying."
"Stop tugging at your hair," Renjun twitters. "You won't look good bald."
"It doesn't fucking matter does it?" Donghyuck moans, splayed out across his kitchen table. "Because I'm about to lose my job and then I'll be sad and poor and hungry so fuck you."
Renjun puts down his phone and gives Donghyuck a look. It's a familiar look, one that says Renjun is done with Donghyuck's shit, but he never really is. He always stays, no matter what. "You're so dramatic. Take a nap. Order a pizza. Leave the poor curse alone. She's suffered enough for today."
The curse is the cause of Donghyuck's new stress. He's managed to isolate a sliver of it, a dark and lonely swirl in the bottom of a freshly cleaned sour cream container — he still hasn't washed his glasses. But the magic itself is a concrete block, no fluidity until it comes into contact with natural energy from a person, and then it's sticky. It's so sticky. It sticks everywhere.
It's worth noting that the curse likes Johnny the most.
The amount of power Donghyuck exerted just to release the magic from a single rib was embarrassing. It sticks to Donghyuck just fine, sticks to the stimulants and the herbs and suppressants that Donghyuck feeds it, but it doesn't like anything as much as it likes Johnny. Donghyuck even tried sticking it to his familiar, a curling black cat with an abundance of natural energy that any black magic would be dying to feed on, and the results are the same.
"Jeno," Donghyuck whines, picking the cat up and staring into his yellow eyes. "Why is it like this?"
"Mreow." Because it hates you.
Donghyuck falls back down on the table. "Ugh, valid."
"Stop talking to your cat right after you tried to curse him. I'm sure he'll only bully you." Renjun sighs, chin in his hands. Jeno prefers Renjun anyway, and leaps into his lap as soon as Donghyuck sets him back down. "That magic stinks like all hell. What's even in it?"
Donghyuck gives the sour cream container a hearty shake. "Spite and hellfire."
This kind of magic shouldn't be giving Donghyuck so much trouble. It's almost because it's so amateurish that he's struggling. There's enough innate power that Donghyuck shudders to think about this person getting formal training, and there's something about it that implies the slightest hint of mental instability, which in turn gives the magic a chaotic structure that Donghyuck has trouble grasping. This person tries hard and, in this instance, succeeds — at least as far as being a nuisance goes.
"It crumbles when I push any unnatural power into it and it solidifies whenever it sees a beating heart, but it doesn't really have any strong effect on anyone other than the client," Donghyuck grumbles. He's been messing with it for four days now, on and off between his other projects, but at this point it's bothering him so much he can barely focus on anything else. "The only day it reacted to anything was when the client was here. Without him, it's like a slug. All it does is sit there and cry."
Renjun gives Jeno a pat on the head and taps away at his phone. "You have that in common." He snorts. "Just make an appointment for the client to come back. It's easy enough."
Johnny has limited his interaction with other people even more than he was before under the impression that Donghyuck would make quick work of this, but the clock is ticking and it's awards season. He'll have to face the masses eventually, terrifyingly on camera, and this thing is only getting more desperate as it goes.
"He's hard to pin down." Donghyuck bites his lip. He's barely interacted with Johnny since he left that first day, after watching Donghyuck prod at a petri dish for nearly an hour. "You're right though. There's nothing else to be done."
Donghyuck at least had the forethought to get Johnny's number. Phones are not Donghyuck's preferred mode of communication (he's not a huge fan of owls either, the way Taeyong is, but he does rather like a good tea leaf conversation) so he barely remembered to ask. He pulls out his own cell and rifles through his contents — Taeyong, Ten, Renjun, Renjun's Mom, Renjun's Bitch (Jaemin), Taeyong EMAIL — and finds Johnny's somewhere in the mix.
It should not be surprising when Johnny does not answer right away, but it is so inconvenient that Donghyuck spits sparks just because. He opens up a chat — pls txt me whenever u get this ty im having some issues, sends, throws the phone aside.
"Who would ever keep a doll like you waiting?" Renjun asks, narrowly avoiding getting hit by the projectile.
"Fucking...celebrity client." Donghyuck holds his head in his hands.
There's almost no time for Renjun to comment on how much Donghyuck hates celebrity clients before Jeno hops out of Renjun's lap and sits squarely on Donghyuck's cellphone. This is almost a sure bet that someone is about to send him a message. Donghyuck is never sure whether it is supposed to be helpful or a massive inconvenience, but he gets up and moves Jeno away anyway.
Who is this?
Renjun barely has the time to look Donghyuck in the eye and say, "Oh, honey," before Donghyuck's phone is ringing.
"Hi," comes a warbled voice on the other end of the line. Johnny. "I'm at work right now but...I'll be at work for a while. I'm hiding in the bathroom."
"Love that in a man," Donghyuck chirps, just to be cheeky, but his frustration bleeds into his voice and it ends up a bit dry.
"I need the curse to react normally so I can figure out how to break it," Donghyuck says. "Functionally, you know? Like, it needs to be active. But it will not activate. It hates me."
That's an understatement, truly. Or perhaps an overstatement, because this magic could not care about Donghyuck any less and quite frankly it's hurting his feelings.
"Okay." There's a soft voice in the background, and more mumbling on Johnny's end — he has his hand over the receiver probably, or is muffling the phone in his shoulder. By the time he gets back to business he sounds more hurried. "What do you need from me?"
"I need you to stop by."
"I can't." Johnny sounds legitimately frustrated by it, but frustration isn't helpful if Donghyuck doesn't get his way. "Like I said, I'm in rehearsals all this week. I can do it next week? On...Tuesday? Or maybe super early on Monday."
"You want to be falling in love for an entire week?" At least, because there's no guarantee Donghyuck will break it any faster. He should, because he's good, but he's doubting himself more and more recently because a random fangirl decided to make his life miserable. "More power to you, but I'm not waking up before noon."
"I don't know what you want from me." Johnny sighs. "I'm sorry. This is really...I have to go."
"This isn't solving the problem."
"Isn't that your job?" The easiest Johnny has been this entire time.
Donghyuck scoffs. "Cheeky." Just the way Donghyuck likes his men, to be honest; willing to step on his toes ever so slightly. "I will, I just need...you. I need you. I need you and this magic and also myself to be in the same place."
"Oh, well that's easier." Johnny is rustling, and there's the sound of a sink running and a man babbling on in the background and Johnny says oh, you look lovely today before turning back to the conversation at hand. "You can just come here?"
"Uh..." Donghyuck blinks, staring wild eyed at Jeno. "Come...where?"
"I can't come to you, but I can tell the staff to expect you tomorrow." Johnny says it like it's reasonable. It sounds reasonable. It should not be reasonable. "That's not an issue."
"Don't you..." Donghyuck shoots a look at Renjun, but Renjun doesn't give a fuck about anything. "Don't you work with other idols and stuff? Do they really want a witch coming around?"
"You're cute enough, they'll just think you are a trainee." Even. Johnny says it like it's reasonable and it is not. "I'll tell them to expect you...hmmm. 1:30? Or will you still be eating breakfast?"
Donghyuck scoffs out a laugh and shakes his sour cream container. "I'll pick it up on the way."
"Sounds good." Johnny laughs. "See you tomorrow."
"Oh, honey." Renjun clicks his tongue. "Good luck."
Johnny Is, according to Naver, a multitalented king with a variety of experience. He sang on an OST two years ago, shortly followed by his debut as an actor. He dropped his first single album earlier last year, and has managed to balance schedules between that and his official group ever since. Most of his members are doing military service right now, but Johnny himself is an American citizen, so he's free to tap dance across the nation's hearts for the next two years solo. Or whatever it is famous people do.
Donghyuck thought about being a trainee once, before he realized that magic is more fun and more chaotic and also comes without selling his soul (in most cases). If he hadn't felt very secure in his decision, seeing the company building solidifies all his misgivings.
"Hello," says a woman wearing business casual and a very stylish lanyard. She holds out her hand, and Donghyuck almost shakes it by rote before she says, "can I see your ID?"
"Oh." Donghyuck laughs. He is not wearing business casual. He is wearing heeled boots he stole from Ten and a pair of pants he thinks are clean, and a t-shirt that he knows is not clean. This is a common trend. Nothing of Donghyuck's is ever clean. He pulls out his ID.
"I'll take you in through the back entrance," she says with a friendly smile. Her aura says she would rather not be dealing with Donghyuck, not that he blames her, but she is good at pretending. Donghyuck supposes the entertainment industry is just like customer service.
Especially since the reason she's taking him in through the back doors is that there are a million screaming girls and several paparazzi standing at the gates. "Is it like this everyday?" Donghyuck asks, hiking his bag up on his shoulder. The McDonalds in his hands is still uncomfortably warm, but the fries are stowed away in a back pocket and he can feel the grease leaking into his side.
"Not everyday, no," she says. Her name tag says her name is Jisoo, but she doesn't ask for Donghyuck's name officially so he figures they're skipping formal introductions. "One of our female idols just got caught in a dating scandal. I'm sure they're hoping for something interesting, but this is hardly our first rodeo."
Donghyuck remembers Johnny saying he never dated much. "What is company policy on dating?"
"She's a newer rookie, so we would have advised against it," Jisoo tells him, and she does sound a bit bitter. There are dark circles under her eyes, carefully concealed by BB cream. "But some things can't be helped."
Donghyuck agrees. There's no way you could put this many beautiful people into one room and expect them to ignore each other. There's no way.
Johnny is currently in the green room, waiting for his stage call. He looks exactly the same as he did when he came into Donghyuck's home, aside from the makeup and the hair product and sloppy clothes. Truly, Johnny is dressed more casually to be in front of the behind the scenes camera than he was to proposition a witch. It's funny.
When he looks up, Donghyuck is looking for the fall. He is paying attention to the first time Johnny gets a good look at him, and he sees it very clearly. The confusion, the processing of the bodies in the doorway, and then the sweet step into something fond. It's gross, in a way. It makes bumps rise on Donghyuck's arms.
He can only imagine how embarrassing it is for Johnny himself, who seems extremely aware that it's manufactured and still trips over himself to greet the witch in his waiting room. "Donghyuck. Hello." There are clips in his hair, likely to set the style, but he looks a bit silly with a cool coif and ratty sweatpants. He's wearing socks and sandals. He looks like a really hot dad.
"Hey there, stranger," Donghyuck says in greeting, bowing slightly. The staff member ushers him into the room and mouths something at Johnny before making her way out. "Long time no see."
Johnny laughs. "It's been, what, a week? Truly too long." He looks at the large bag on Donghyuck's shoulders. "Did you bring me a gift?"
"Dark magic," Donghyuck tells him. "And some leftover cookies that Renjun didn't finish. I figured you were on a diet and I like making people break the rules." In truth, the despair from making no headway on the curse led Donghyuck to stress baking, but he'll never admit it.
"I thought you were getting me a McGriddle?"
Donghyuck plops his stuff down on the vanity. "Oh." He pulls out the McDonald's bag. Everything smells like stale grease. "I forgot about that."
The lights at the mirror make everything both too bright and too hot, and there are belongings all over the place; too many things to just be Johnny's, but what does Donghyuck know? His own desk looks much worse.
When Donghyuck looks at Johnny, he sees a relatively tired normal human with a lot of product in his hair and nothing to do. There's enough bustling that Donghyuck knows that isn't true, and the sour cream container practically vibrates when he takes it out and puts it on the table. "The magic likes you so much," Donghyuck notes, watching the bin inch towards Johnny.
"Lucky me." Johnny snorts and unwraps his breakfast sandwich. "The curse is in there?"
"Well." He squints. "I figured magic would be more...grandiose."
"Me too." Donghyuck grins. "But it's more fun this way." He looks at the clock. "How much time do I have?"
"Right now?" There's a piece of paper taped up on the back of the dressing room door, and Johnny squints at it from the couch where he sits. "Sound check starts in about an hour. So maybe half an hour?"
Donghyuck chews on his lip. That doesn't really give him a lot of time. "Alright." He pops the lid open and the room smells like fake love. He grimaces. "Let's get going, then."
Donghyuck had been right — it was significantly easier to start picking the curse apart when the object of its affection was around.
It's irritating because normal curses don't work that way. Donghyuck has worked with his fair share and has never had any problems tricking them into activating. Once again Donghyuck hates the amateur witch that's making his life a living hell. If they were even minimally competent they would have been more predictable.
At least he was able to single out two of the components in the short time he had with Johnny before his pretty manager came back to drag him on stage. Donghyuck snorted when Johnny fell in love with her and stumbled out of his seat. He snorted even harder when she frowned at him — "You've been really clumsy lately. Is everything okay?"
As soon as the door shut behind Johnny the curse withered out into its stagnant form again. Donghyuck prodded at it dismally, knowing it would be useless. Johnny's rehearsal has several sections, and he'll be on break in a couple of hours while they do lighting for the second set. Donghyuck can try and narrow down the honing magic used when his busy client gets back.
Until then, Donghyuck thinks he will wander.
How often does one get to see backstage of this sort of event? Donghyuck has always liked music, performance, art, every iteration of entertainment. He likes seeing all of the real humans dressed up like fake humans and paraded around on stage, and he likes seeing them backstage eating sandwiches and trying not to fuck up their makeup. He passes at least two people he recognizes from television.
Most of the people he passes work for the company. They're bustling around with tablets and cellphones and ear pieces and business suits. Donghyuck sees an equal amount of business casual and sweat pants and it's hard to tell who is who. Today seems to be a normal preparation day and there are plenty of groups here, some that Donghyuck recognizes and some he doesn't.
They don't really give him a second look.
Donghyuck guesses there are probably people walking in and out these doors all the time, a constant rotation of wannabes and hopefuls and reporters and accountants and whatever. Donghyuck laughs to himself and wonders if he's the first witch here on official business. Should he be proud?
He's more proud that he found the vending machine — McDonald's seems like a lifetime ago and all of the magic has depleted him.
Truthfully, Johnny had been decent company in that he'd been quiet. Curse breaking isn't usually something Donghyuck likes doing with an audience; it's a long, over-complicated process that isn't unsimilar to puzzle solving. At its worst, it's a surgery. Renjun is allowed to be in the same room sometimes, if he hasn't had too much Red Bull. Jeno is on thin fucking ice because he knocked over a fern and got dirt in Donghyuck's anti-aging cream for Madame Soonhyun.
Johnny watched politely, occupied himself, and asked questions every once in a while. At the beginning, Donghyuck could tell he wanted to talk more — he supposes it in the nature of man to be curious — but a sharp look had been enough to dissuade long conversation. Still, Donghyuck isn't against a little bit of merriment while he works. Johnny is good at reading the mood.
More than anything, Donghyuck likes his ego stroked.
He won't say he wasn't a little performative with his magic, but Johnny's wide eyes were too good not to be.
Donghyuck isn't sure why he's thinking about this while he watches his Sierra Mist fall from the vending machine but he is. Johnny's wide eyes are really cute. He snickers. He can see why a man like Johnny might get cursed by a fangirl. Honestly, Donghyuck is surprised things like that don't happen more often. He supposes more magic workers are less trivial with power like that.
"Are you a new trainee?"
Donghyuck almost chokes on his first swig of soda. He does choke, actually, but he thinks he plays it off rather well. "Excuse me," he croaks, covering his mouth with the back of his hand while he wills his eyes to stop watering. "One second."
Standing in the hallway is a man wearing an extremely loud hoodie and sweats that Donghyuck thinks he could fit into twice. He must be either famous or wealthy, because no one wears shit like this unless they've been told they can pull it off. Whatever he is, he's extremely unimpressed by Donghyuck's display.
"I'm not a trainee," Donghyuck says after a moment, screwing the lid back on the bottle and taking a deep breath of fresh air. He's sure his face is flushed red. "Aren't I a little old?" He laughs.
The stranger hums. "Not necessarily." His eyes are sharp. His hair is down to his shoulders and white blonde — positively fried. He looks Donghyuck up and down. "I've started people older than you."
Oh. Donghyuck laughs more. "How old am I, exactly?" He's still embarrassed from his own surprise, but one of Donghyuck's greatest strengths is his ability to bounce back.
His flirting is well received, as always. "You look pretty timeless to me."
Donghyuck shoves his hand in his pocket and smiles brightly. He leans in closer. "Do they let ageless creatures work here?"
"Of course." The man grins and it's brilliant. Donghyuck wants to see more of it. "Look at me."
There's a hand under Donghyuck's chin, tilting his face up to the light, and the feeling is a bit shocking. "You have a nice face and a pretty voice. Do you sing?"
Donghyuck lowers his lashes, but a part of him can't hide his amusement. "Only if you buy me dinner first." He grins. "You're very charming. You must be an excellent recruiter."
"Oh, the very best." The man flips a switch and he's cute, putting his hands in the pockets of his enormous, gaudy hoodie and cocking his head to the side.
"I imagine the charmspeak is probably really helpful."
And after a stunned moment, there's a sharp laugh. The man's shoulders relax completely, and in an instant Donghyuck finds his head again. He really should have understood the moment his head went fuzzy, but there's nothing for it. Fae are a different breed.
"How funny." The man tucks his white hair behind his ear and sticks out his hand. "I'm Yuta."
Donghyuck reaches out and shakes his hand, but he squints. "You're not the type of fae that steals names, are you?"
Yuta grins, all shark teeth. "I'd be in the right business for it."
"That's not a no."
"I'm not." Yuta pouts; fae can't lie. "You're familiar with us. That's unusual. There's not a huge community here." He looks over Donghyuck one more time, a little more clinically. "You're...something unnatural."
Donghyuck clicks his tongue. "I'm a witch." Nail on the head. "I'm here to break a curse."
Yuta frowns. "A curse?" And sweet understanding. "You're here for Johnny?"
There's a moment of hesitation — "You weren't the one who cast it, were you?" That'd be embarrassing. But that wouldn't make sense. Fae are masters at everything they do, and the curse feels shoddy in a way fae would never allow.
Besides, Yuta looks appropriately disgusted. "I don't like dark magic; I'm allergic."
"Donghyuck!" Unlike before, this is a familiar voice. It's Johnny, walking down the hallway. He's sweating through his shirt and his skin looks wet. There's a half-emptied water bottle in one hand with the label torn off, and a woman with a camera is following just behind. He turns to her, presumably to ask for a moment alone, and then he walks over. "You found the vending machine."
"You're finished much faster than I thought you would be," Donghyuck says, taking it in. Johnny is a lot more towering when they're both standing. His arms are out now, the sleeves rolled up to his shoulders. "I was just exploring."
"I'm just on break."
"Hello to you, too," Yuta grumbles, crossing his arms. "Some old friend you are."
Johnny looks at him, and again Donghyuck calculates the fall. It's not quite instantaneous, and it's not the same as when Johnny looks at him or the camerawoman or anyone else. Each time it's been a little different as the person rotates. "Ah, hello Yuta." Johnny sways cutely. "You know I'm always happy to see you."
"Oh." Yuta hums again, glancing at the witch and then back to Johnny. "Is this the witch you hired?"
"Yeah." Johnny wipes the back of his neck with the towel hanging over his shoulder.
"How is the curse breaking coming?" Yuta puts a hand on Johnny's chest and watches the taller man shudder at the contact. "Oh. It's still very dark?"
"It's a love curse gone horribly awry." Donghyuck crosses his arms over his chest and sighs. "I can break it for sure, but it might annoy me to death first." It's like someone has tied a particularly complicated knot but lacked all skill. There's no easy way to unravel it.
Johnny looks at Donghyuck and Donghyuck sees the shift. The man closes his eyes before looking at the ceiling. "I'm sorry." He pinches his nose like he's trying to stop a yawn. He gestures at Donghyuck with his water bottle. "Yuta is the one who explained to me I needed...magical assistance."
"I directed him towards Sicheng." Yuta pulls his hand away. If Donghyuck looks carefully he can see the magic stick to his fingertips slightly; it seems to prefer natural magic to Donghyuck's own. "Sicheng and I have...worked together previously. I'm a bit sad he couldn't help. But I gotta say—" He grins at Johnny and relishes in the way Johnny's pupils dilate. "You sure picked a cute substitute."
Donghyuck laughs and the switch flips again and Johnny groans, pressing the heel of his hands into his eyes.
"Sorry," he says a little breathlessly. "Multiple people at a time is hard."
Donghyuck can understand that. "Here." He moves to stand behind Johnny, out of his sight line. He puts his hands up on Johnny's shoulders. The man is way taller than Donghyuck is, and broader, and firmer. It's not a position Donghyuck is mad about. "Now you can love Yuta only."
Yuta snorts. "Gross."
"That sounds horrible," Johnny says, even if it's a little weak.
Donghyuck snickers and covers Johnny's eyes with his hands. "Is this better?"
"Ah…" Johnny freezes. "You'll...yeah." Unsure.
Yuta lets the silence hang for barely a moment. "You're gonna mess up his makeup, kid."
Johnny's face does feel makeup slick under Donghyuck's fingers. "I've got to give those artists something to do, right?" Donghyuck grins at Yuta from around Johnny's arm. "Do you think they'll make me over?"
"If you pay them to, sure." Yuta rolls his eyes. "Come on." He looks up at Johnny and makes a face. Johnny's skin is rippled with goosebumps. Is it sweat cooling or is it love? "Let's let Johnny get himself a snack before the rehearsal director comes at us with a knife and his clipboard."
i'm more rebellious because i'm not using capitals
wait ur literally the bourgeoisie
"If this project kills me at least I got two cute boys' numbers out of it," Donghyuck tells Jeno when the cat decides to walk on top of the textbook he's studying. Jeno lays down on Donghyuck's hands and obscures the curse information. "That's right, Jeno. Curses aren't shit."
"Thanks." Donghyuck sits back in his chair with a huff. He pulls his hands out from below Jeno and rubs his head. The purr is calming. Donghyuck blows hot air. "Do I even need to know exactly what honing form is used? It's not like it works well."
Johnny's curse had been put on a minor hold. It's been two days since Donghyuck went to the company to work on it there and his notebook has a full page of notes on its attributes. In the sour cream container the magic sits like a lump, but by the end of the day with Johnny he'd been able to successfully hold off the effects for about ten minutes. He'd sat there and had an entire conversation with Johnny about the project Johnny's working on and Johnny didn't falter until Donghyuck laughed.
Still, it was progress.
"This sucks," Johnny lamented, throwing his head back and sprawling out in his chair while Yuta laughed at them both. "What am I going to do at the music shows? Or the awards. I'll make a fool out of myself."
"I'll solve it by then," Donghyuck had reassured him, writing down his final thoughts and packing up all of his things. "I'm good. It'll be fine."
Of course, Donghyuck said that and then went home and took on another project to try and remind himself he could break a curse at all.
He doesn't even usually take jobs — Johnny's is the first one he's worked on this year. But he'd called Sicheng that night and asked if he had any potential clients. Sicheng did, because Sicheng always does.
The old woman had come in the next morning and Donghyuck broke the curse in less than an hour.
"See?" he'd told Jeno, much to the woman's alarm. "This is what happens when spells are predictable." He handed her old music box back to her and said, "That will be two happy memories, please." All in all, an easy visit.
He'd needed something to solidify his shaken confidence — yes, Donghyuck is one of the best witches within a 100 mile radius, thank you very much.
Still, the sour cream curse mocks him.
Donghyuck has been pouring over traditional textbooks for the last three hours. There's nothing much else he can do without Johnny, and the idol is neck-deep in preparations for commercials and filmings and tapings and recordings. God, all of it makes Donghyuck's head spin. It sounds brutal.
It's also annoying, because it's really throwing off Donghyuck's productivity.
Before Johnny had showed up on his doorstep with the curse from hell Donghyuck had been in the process of developing a self-healing synthetic skin. It's something that he's been working on for over a year with the kind of passion only found in young children and the odd genius, but Donghyuck has barely had the thought to pick at it.
He hates his brain. He can't work on that puzzle until he solves this one.
"Jeno?" Donghyuck asks, taking the cat into his lap. "If you were a complete novice, how would you make a spell?"
The cat looks at him with bright yellow eyes.
"Yeah, I don't know either." Donghyuck was born and raised in magic. He's not a fan who searched how to get their idol to love them on the dark web.
Donghyuck shuts his textbook.
Donghyuck collapses into the seat across from Johnny like a sack of flour. "You're so lucky I'm not alive right now," he says, putting his forehead on the sticky table. There are grains of sugar that dig into his skin. "Or else I'd kill you."
"Here." Johnny pushes a large cup of coffee towards him. "Now we're even."
This latte is a lot more expensive than the one from McCafé, but Donghyuck won't complain. Johnny dragged his ass to this high-end café in the middle of nowhere so he thinks he deserves something fancy. Sometimes it's hard to tell where exactly the shop sets root in the morning, and Donghyuck woke up hitting the pavement on the entire opposite side of the city than usual.
Johnny himself looks far more aware than Donghyuck — he'd clearly had some kind of schedule in the morning. There's subtle makeup on his face smoothing out his skin, filling his eyebrows, warming up his face, and his hair is carefully gelled and styled off his forehead. He looks very casual today — not fake casual like their first meeting, or grunge casual like the second. He's wearing a t-shirt and a warm yellow jacket. It looks like something a normal person would wear.
Not Donghyuck. Donghyuck has not worn a clean shirt in front of Johnny a single time. The sweatshirt on top is clean probably. The pajama pants he slept in.
"You have…" Johnny purses his mouth, like he's not sure he should say.
Donghyuck raises his head off the table. "Hmm?"
"Uh, sorry—" Johnny reaches across and plucks something out of Donghyuck's hair. He twists it in his finger. The petals bleed blue-purple on his fingers. "You're partial to flower crowns?"
"Oh." Donghyuck rubs his face. "I couldn't sleep last night. It's lavender."
"Why couldn't you sleep?" Johnny laughs into his americano. "Not used to going to sleep so early?"
"I didn't even try." Donghyuck hufs, readjusting his bag on the seat beside him. "My brain was going too fast. I was doing research all night." He pulls out his notebook. There's ink smudged on his fingers and then on the cover.
"Oh?" Johnny raises his eyebrows. Behind him, an older woman stares at the back of his head with extreme force and he ignores her. "Had a breakthrough?"
It's said as a joke, but actually — "Yeah." Donghyuck throws the stupid curse container on the table with ire. He hates that thing. "That's why I wanted to meet you today. I want to see if I'm right." Donghyuck's hair is sticking up all over the place and he looks completely wild. The woman behind Johnny looks at Donghyuck in alarm. He wonders if she's never seen an absolute wreck before but he has rights, too.
Johnny takes a deep sip and sets his coffee down. "Alright." He smiles, tight around the eyes. "I'll be happy when this is all over."
"But then you won't get to see me anymore." Donghyuck flutters his eyelashes and laughs and the way Johnny flushes. "It's too easy."
"This is mine, now." Johnny pulls Donghyuck's drink back onto his side of the table with extreme disdain, even if the tips of his ears are bright pink.
Donghyuck simpers. "Don't be so grumpy," he says cutely, flipping his notebook open.
"You were half-asleep a second ago. You're not allowed to be flirty."
Suddenly, Donghyuck remembers the time of day. "Oh, god, you're right." He reaches over and plucks the cup back out of Johnny's hand. "Let's make this quick, then." Carefully, the witch spreads the papers crammed into his notebook out on the table and pulls chalk out of his bag.
"Wait, wait." Johnny jerks, his knees hitting the table as he looks around. He makes eye contact with the woman and smiles before looking back at Donghyuck frantically. "You can't do magic here. People will see you."
Donghyuck stares him down while he starts drawing on the table. "Watch me."
The entire night Donghyuck had spent at his ancient computer he only uses for gaming and sending snarky emails, searching questions he already had the answers to. He tried to channel his inner fangirl, because he knows he surely has one. Still, the sheer desperation that must be present to realistically attempt dark magic is a bit beyond his own fanaticism.
It took a few hours, but there were a couple of different search results that he thinks might be components in their botched sour cream spell.
"You should really be thanking me," Donghyuck mutters as he etches runes on top of vinyl finish. "Every single thing I looked up made me dumber." None of the magic on those dark web pages were legitimate — either they were complete nonsense, made of destructive magic that would backfire on the caster, or some strange mutation that wouldn't achieve the desired results.
Donghyuck always knew there were sites like those. He's seen the results of amateur backfire several times. Magic is something that humans can harness, but that doesn't mean they can harness it well. Donghyuck himself is technically human, under ceremony and teaching. His entire family were witches, though. He'd never known any other way of living. Even before he officially took on the hat he'd had something more thrumming in his veins. He'd always had the privilege of resources; there had never been the need to ask all-knowing Google.
But there haven't been any horrible burnouts recently, nor any mangled bodies — Donghyuck pays attention to those, when magic might be a factor — so he supposes it's not the spell that rebounds. An amateur would have died almost immediately, and he'd rather not reverse engineer that one anyway.
No, the honing spell works. It's just shit. Donghyuck thinks it's a mutation. He'd spent several hours burning the midnight oil ripping the magic theory apart and piecing it back together again.
He hums quietly under his breath and draws on the table in pink chalk.
Johnny is quiet while he works, even as he stares at the people milling around them in mild panic. Donghyuck thinks it's funny; he doesn't tell Johnny that Donghyuck himself is glamoured so Johnny just looks nervous while Donghyuck sits quietly across from him. But after a moment Donghyuck forgets Johnny completely.
Donghyuck doesn't have a complex, but there's something really fun about solving puzzles. He sprinkles the herbs he'd prepared beforehand in the center of the runes he drew and feels his ears pop. Johnny clutches his chest in surprise. The curse in the container hums loudly, a jarring melody. Donghyuck grins.
"Sabrina, eat your heart out," he says, as the chalk illuminates the table in cherry and gold.
Truly, he'd be wasted as an idol.
Johnny's hand shakes where it's clenched in his shirt. "What are you doing?"
It's probably alarming, feeling his chest pull this way. Well, this is all Donghyuck really needed anyway, and he only has an hour. He smudges his hand through the chalk and the smear ends the shine. "I just wanted to test a theory," he says, wiping chalk on his pants and taking a drink of his coffee. It's sugary sweet and a little cold now. "I was right." And thank god for that. Donghyuck grins.
"You broke it?" Johnny frowns, squinting at Donghyuck across the table.
Well. "No." Donghyuck huffs. "Way to burst my bubble." He grimaces into the coffee lid. "I just figured out the tricky component. I'll finish soon. It's mostly just stringing all the parts together so I can unravel it properly." It's taken him over a week. What a mess.
Johnny is quiet as Donghyuck gathers the paper together and starts making notes. There isn't a single blank space on any of them, all graphite and ruled lines. Some of it is horribly smudged, a lot of it crossed out, and Donghyuck erases something to scribble in cramped margins. He wonders if he should call Renjun over so they can smooth out the formula, although Renjun would probably request part of Donghyuck's commission and Donghyuck's greedy.
"Do you want something to eat?"
Donghyuck blinks up at Johnny, pulled out of his head. "Oh, what?"
"I'm gonna get another drink. Do you want anything?" Johnny is standing up out the chair and smoothing down the new wrinkles in his shirt. He looks over the array that Donghyuck has scrawled on fake wood. "While you...uh...clean up?"
"Something cherry?" Donghyuck purses his lips thoughtfully while he takes out baby wipes from his bag and starts wiping his fingers. "Or cranberry. Please?" He shoves the notebook in the corner. "I can take it to go, if you have somewhere to be?"
"That's alright." Johnny waves over his shoulder as he goes to charm the cashier with a big smile. "The hour isn't up."
Donghyuck snorts at Johnny's back. "You like spending time with me so much?" Johnny doesn't hear him to answer, but Donghyuck still laughs.
Having someone be in love with you means lots of free things. It's not so bad.
Jaemin calls Renjun in the morning, and then Renjun calls Donghyuck, and then Donghyuck checks the internet and laughs so hard he cries before calling Johnny.
"Hello?" Johnny asks into the receiver. He picks up almost immediately. Donghyuck barely has time to contain his laughter before he hears the voice on the other end. "Hyuck? Do you need something?"
"I just wanted to call and see how my boyfriend was doing," Donghyuck replies. It's so absurd. He can't even say it straight. He dissolves into giggles. "Is that...oh fuck, sorry, is that so wrong?"
Johnny sighs heavily. "Seriously? You can't even get the joke out?"
Donghyuck wipes his eyes. "I'm sorry, wow. I'm just so…" He laughs, rolling around in his bed. "Oh, fuck. Not everyday you find out you're dating an idol!"
Their short café date hadn't led to all of magic being discovered the way Johnny was so worried about. Donghyuck isn't a wonderful illusionist, but all witches know how to cover their tracks when public magic is required. Still, there was a totally different threat that Donghyuck hadn't particularly considered: the paparazzi.
Dispatch had updated their Instagram with photos of Johnny laughing with his mysterious date. There were some of him looking nervous and one of him handing Donghyuck his coffee. Johnny's heart eyes are definitely visible on camera, even if Donghyuck doesn't notice them as much anymore.
Donghyuck thinks the entire thing would be more believable if Donghyuck himself hadn't been wearing pajamas.
"We're not dating. Don't tell anyone we're dating." Johnny talks like it hurts him.
"Is everything okay?" Donghyuck sits up straight in his bed, phone tucked under his ear. "Sorry, I thought your company would just deny it. Are you actually in trouble?" The entire thing is funny. Even though Donghyuck's face being public is a little uncomfortable, it's not a long term problem.
Donghyuck has been caught in plenty of controversies before, and his friends have had even rowdier clients. When Jaemin tried to stop the ghoul from releasing all the zoo animals and got caught on tape at the crime scenes, that had been a mess. A hilarious mess, but definitely a mess. This will be Donghyuck wearing something to promote forgetting for a couple of days and the media burying it itself.
Johnny pauses, and Donghyuck hears him sigh again. "I'm not in trouble."
"Well, you don't sound happy." Donghyuck frowns. "Quite frankly, I'm offended." He nibbles on his lip when he doesn't hear Johnny laugh. "Come on, man, I'm kidding! I know we're not dating. It's funny! I can't wait to be roasted online."
"It's not as fun as it seems."
"I've been mauled by wendigos before; what's an angry 12-year-old going to do?" Donghyuck leans back on his arm and looks at the window. "Nap at me?"
Johnny does laugh, then, and it's hard won. "I mean, that's true. I'm going to gloss over that first part. Quite frankly I don't want to know."
"That's the spirit," Donghyuck says cheerfully. "What's got you so bummed out? I know it's not because of me."
Johnny is quiet.
"If you're mad because you're worried about me, fuck off." It's a light ribbing, but Donghyuck means it. "Netizens are brutal but they're literally just data. I don't even go on the internet that much. Even if I did, it still wouldn't matter." Donghyuck is telling the truth when he says they don't scare him. He has no desire to be liked by humans and he has more power over than they do of him. Add that to the fact that anyone looking into him immediately remembers something else much more urgent they need to finish.
Magic is a handy trick.
"There's just a lot of paperwork at the company right now," Johnny says after a minute. It's begrudging, but Donghyuck makes a good point and Johnny knows it. "Our PR team is already drafting a response. I hate to say we're going to deny it—"
"We've only been dating for like, 14 hours and you're already breaking up with me." Donghyuck clicks his tongue. "I thought we were meeting each other with good feelings." He yawns, rubs the back of his neck. He'd been taking an afternoon nap when Renjun woke him up with feral screeching. Donghyuck can't even be angry — the entire thing is funny. "Cheer up, buttercup. Everything is fine. And Dispatch got my good side."
"Yeah." Johnny snorts. "They did."
"Not that I have a bad side, of course."
"The bad side would have been if they got a better photo of your pants."
Donghyuck sniffs. "Pajamas in public makes me relatable. I'm an icon." He rubs his eyes.
"That's true." Johnny hums thoughtfully. "Honestly, I don't really mind that people think we're dating. I just don't like that they dragged you into it."
"Well of course you don't mind." Donghyuck snorts. "You're in love with me. Isn't this ideal?" He looks at the notebook half-open on his desk. "We should probably figure out the curse stuff immediately. I'll work on breaking it now, actually."
"What do you mean?"
"I'd like to get rid of you. I can't keep my exes around."
Donghyuck yawns again, scratching his stomach. "No, really. If your curse worker thinks you're seeing someone they might do something funny. I'd rather get you taken care of quickly." Johnny's company will deny their relationship and things will smooth over, but someone ridiculous enough to turn towards dark magic probably won't believe something even if it's in front of their eyes.
Johnny mumbles quietly under his breath. "You really think she'll do something?"
"Probably." Donghyuck shakes his head. It's a foggy afternoon and the clouds drifted into his brain and refuse to leave. "If my man were seeing someone else, I would."
"Remind me not to piss you off."
Donghyuck grins. "Shouldn't you know that already?" He throws the blankets off, legs hitting the cool air of his room, and slaps his face a little until the clouds float away. Jeno rubs his head on Donghyuck's ankle. "I'll talk to you later, okay? Don't do anything stupid. And most important — think of me."
"I will." Johnny laughs — finally a full laugh, with his whole chest. "I'll think of you fondly."
"Thank you, dear," Donghyuck says through another yawn. Damn, that nap was brutal. "I love you. Have fun at work."
Johnny chokes on a goodbye as Donghyuck hangs up the phone.
"It's always fun to have all the power," Donghyuck tells Jeno. "Men are so predictable."
Honestly, Donghyuck is a night person. He supposes that's horribly cliché for a witch, but he's always been just a touch nocturnal. Magic works better at night — most magic, anyway — but it's not always functional to stay up that late. Donghyuck has fixed his sleep schedule slowly but surely over the past few years. He has trouble turning his brain off so he finds other things to do. Long projects are the death of him. He prefers things quick and easy so his brain can shut down in between.
Needless to say, he got very little sleep.
He's not mad about it, although he might be once the delirium rolls away. It's hard to be angry about anything when he finally has a cure that will work. Or...might work.
Donghyuck made several iterations of the same formula, different concentrations of this or that. The first one left an ugly red welt on his skin when he tested it on the back of his hand. The second one Jeno swatted off the kitchen table and the magical ringing it gives off has made Donghyuck weary of it so it's still splattered on the floor. The third one was alright but too strong — it zapped Donghyuck of all magical energy and then some. Johnny wouldn't be able to handle a dosage that strong.
Spellbinder is easier to work with than gelatin anyway, although Donghyuck now owes Jaemin a favor or two. Donghyuck is a stupid idiot and reached into his pot earlier the day before only to hit the bottom with dry fingers. Some witch he is.
The fourth iteration was the first one where Donghyuck was using the right ingredients, but he'd only made a half-batch. He knew the formula would need tweaking with the introduction of a better binder. And so, at a beautiful 6 in the morning, Donghyuck fell asleep on the floor of his kitchen with a pot of curse cure brewing on the stove.
Jeno managed to turn the burner off before things got too dicey.
"You should have just let me die," Donghyuck tells the cat when he wakes up at 7:30 with the sun starting to peek in through the window. The smell of magic is nearly noxious and the small herb garden on the windowsill is complaining very loudly for Donghyuck to air the room out. Natural magic and unnatural magic are not friends. His aloe would rather die than smell a curse for even one more moment.
Donghyuck texts Johnny just before he gets into the shower: i have good news for u
Johnny hasn't answered by the time Donghyuck is finished even though Donghyuck thinks he fell asleep under the water. It's fine. The witch collapses in his bed on top of the covers and decides to sleep as much as the gods let him.
His body is full of latent magic still whirring and it doesn't want to let him rest. It wants to be used and dissolved and created. Something, working with magic is a lot like taking care of a very unruly child that is also very needy and also never listens to you. In other words it's nearly impossible. Donghyuck wakes up two hours later with bloodshot eyes and magical hangover.
Even after Donghyuck manages to pull himself out of bed and brew a no-magic cure-all, Johnny still has not texted him back.
He's in the middle of sending his final texts — okay ur too busy for me just text me back when u can!! — when Renjun calls.
"Hello, you wily bastard."
Donghyuck groans. "I don't have the brain cells for you."
"That bad?" Renjun hums. He's used to Donghyuck's dramatics but he also knows how Donghyuck is when he works. "I knew something would happen tonight. I'm sending over Chenle with something for your brain cells."
"I'm brewing a cure-all already."
"Yeah, that will help. Cure magic depletion using more magic. You really don't have the brain cells, do you?"
"It's a no-brew!" Donghyuck whines. "Don't be mean to me! I cracked a curse this morning and I haven't recovered."
"Oh. Is that why you needed spellbinder?"
Donghyuck grimaces, playing with the cure-all in his pot while it simmers. "Next time you spend the night fucking Jaemin, don't eavesdrop on adult conversations, maybe." The timer on the microwave counts down too slowly, in time with Donghyuck's aching head.
Renjun sputters and Donghyuck allows himself the sick satisfaction of being happy about it. "I wasn't."
"Oh, shut up. I know you were. Why do you think I didn't bother asking you for anything? You're so predictable when you're horny."
"It's Scorpio season."
Donghyuck rolls his eyes. "Is it always Scorpio season?"
"I don't know. Maybe?" Renjun makes a gross sound. "Maybe I'll call Chenle back and you can suffer forever. Maybe I'll steal Jeno and leave you alone to your misery."
"Jeno might like you better but he's literally tied to me so if you take him I'm coming along." There's a knocking on Donghyuck's kitchen window, and Donghyuck grins. "It's too late to call Chenle back anyway."
"Fuck, he's too fast."
Donghyuck taps the excess off his spoon and sets it aside before he moves over to unlatch the window. There's a pretty orange Arabian Mau batting incessantly at the window panes. "Pretend like you didn't send him before you even called me, I dare you." Donghyuck opens the latch and the cat knocks over his cactus coming inside. "Hello, Chenle."
"Mreow." Chenle walks across the kitchen counter and gets close enough to the pot to look at what's inside.
"I'm good, thanks." He picks up his phone again. "Chenle's here safely. Thanks for the drugs."
"Oh, fuck off." Renjun hangs up.
Donghyuck looks around the kitchen. "Jeno is around here somewhere...I'm sure he wouldn't mind you annoying him."
"Don't be like that." He pets the cat's head. Chenle has always been a glutton for attention. Donghyuck himself can relate. "You bring gifts?"
Chenle sneezes, and his tail flicks towards the island. There's a small glass bottle, low and fat, neatly wrapped in cheesecloth that definitely hadn't been there before. Donghyuck knows it wasn't there before because none of his glasses are clean. Renjun has always been better about making sure his glasses are always ready when he needs them.
Curious, Donghyuck picks it up and scratches the scarlet wax seal with his nail. He pops the top. It smells like honey and strong natural magic. He raises his eyebrows. "Renjun really pulled out the big guns, huh?" He looks at Chenle.
"I don't know what that means, but cool." Donghyuck sniffs the bottle again and smells lemon. He feels a bit more awake already. "Damn, he really wasn't playing games was he?" Donghyuck snickers as he opens their chat — u care me — and takes a swig from the bottle. "Oof." He bangs a fist against his chest as the magic burns going down. "Did he put vodka in here? Holy hell."
Renjun's magic does more than Donghyuck's own magicless brew would, and Donghyuck slowly feels himself replenished. There's something electric in his fingertips after a minute or two, like someone plugged Donghyuck back into the universe with no surge protector. Still, he finishes simmering the potion and chokes it down when it's done. It soothes the jitters, even though there's little left to replenish.
Donghyuck leaves the window open. His herb garden is right; this much unnatural magic is making his head hurt.
It's a pretty day outside. The wind blowing in doesn't smell like the city the way it should, but Donghyuck never pays attention to the scenery too closely unless it's spectacularly pretty. Liminal spaces tend to be blurry around the edges and Donghyuck is a bit allergic to the shift, and the last time Donghyuck's eyes caught a transition he had a headache and a runny nose for two hours.
Still, if he looks out the window he still sees the city, which likely means he'll have someone come visit soon or he himself will have to leave to run an errand. The house doesn't seem to like smog, but Donghyuck needs the ease of living in a metropolis — this is the compromise. It's not like Donghyuck complains too much. He'd rather live outside of the smog himself.
It's well into the afternoon and Johnny has still not texted him back.
Donghyuck has preoccupied himself with finally washing his dishes. He put the dirty bottle from Renjun in the dishwasher and properly burned through the excess ingredients that would not be responsible to toss down the sink. The ruined second attempt at curse cure still sits awkwardly on the floor, but Donghyuck dutifully cleans it up when it starts burning through the vinyl flooring.
He's up to his elbows in soap suds by the time Jeno and Chenle make their way back into the kitchen. His phone sits quietly on the side — too quietly, and certainly not forgotten. "Jeno, can you check if he's replied yet?"
Jeno bats at the phone until it lights up and displays nothing new. Chenle knocks it onto the floor.
"I guess it's not unusual for him not to answer," Donghyuck tells himself, staring at the wall while he scrubs burnt gelatin out of his pots. "He's really busy."
They'd been texting regularly since the first time Donghyuck mentioned him, and Johnny was usually good about telling Donghyuck he was busy and would reply later. Donghyuck supposes that's probably just him feeling entitled to Johnny's time — surely there are times when idols simply can't have their phones on them.
That knowledge doesn't keep Donghyuck from grousing. "I only have the solution to his harrowing plight, no big deal."
On the floor the phone buzzes.
Donghyuck looks at his soapy hands. "Chenle, look what you did."
Chenle flicks his tail like he's proud of himself. He's too much like his witch. Renjun and Chenle both are going to lead Donghyuck to an early death.
Donghyuck lowers the pot back into the dirty water and pulls the tattered dish cloth off of his shoulder. There's so much soap that it nearly soaks the towel, but it does enough that Donghyuck can answer his phone without subjecting it to water damage.
Donghyuck looks at the TupperWare container sitting on his island in the sunlight. There's dirt smudged on the lid from where Donghyuck tried to save his fallen cactus and the solution inside looks disgusting. He grins at it — i think ull be happy to see me.
There's a knock on his door not very long after. Johnny must have been on his way here long before he sent that text message, which explains why the shop solidified on the usual street corner but does not explain why Johnny didn't text him back. He checked his messages and didn't bother? Even when Donghyuck told him he had good news? Ungrateful.
Unless Johnny hadn't checked his messages until then, but then why would he be on his way already?
Donghyuck rubs his eyes and opens the front door. "What's up."
Johnny stands on his porch step big and hulking. Again, he's dressed like he had a schedule — makeup and hair gel and at least three items on his body that are designer — but he looks a bit windswept. He looks tense, maybe even nervous.
"Don't give me that look. How many times have I let you in already?" Donghyuck steps out of the doorway and gestures for Johnny to take a step inside. "Just because I'm barely a shop doesn't mean I don't value your...what's it called? Patronage? Large wallet?"
"Oh, har har." Johnny laughs, toeing off his shoes politely on the welcome mat. "It's still, um, as messy as ever."
Donghyuck hisses. "I have a lot of things to do. I'm clean, aren't I?" His hair has long since air dried from the shower and probably looks like a cloud around his head. His glasses are perched on his nose and make him look like a knock-off wizard. His shirt, for once, is not dirty but does have an enormous ink stain from last year's Christmas letters. "That's all that matters."
Johnny looks him up and down before following him into the kitchen. "Yes." He sighs, and it's fond. "You are."
"Sit, sit. Tell me about your busy day."
"I thought you had a gift for me?" Johnny asks, but he sits on the bar stool anyway. He looks much more comfortable here than the first time, despite it not being so long.
"Holding off gives the whole thing more tension." Donghyuck clicks his tongue and goes back to towel drying his dishes; he'd put it off for so long there's nowhere else to put things on the drying rack. "Aren't you an idol? This is the first rule in dramatics."
"I'll have to learn better from you." Johnny puts his elbows on the counter, chin in the heel of his hand. He looks tired. His eyes are red and he has dark circles, but he still looks at Donghyuck like he could keep looking forever. In truth, it brings something both warm and sour to Donghyuck's stomach. The curse sticks to his ribs for now.
If Donghyuck had his way he'd rip that magic apart with his bare hands. Luckily for them all, he's a witch and a good one. He has a more efficient solution.
He also has questions. "I'm surprised you had the time to come meet with me." Carefully, Donghyuck stacks the skillet he's washed and dried to the side so he can put it away later, for now he turns and leans his hip against the counter to look at Johnny. "I could have brought it to you."
Johnny's expression darkens. "'It?'"
Donghyuck grins. "The cure."
The tension in Johnny's shoulders melts, his jaw slack. "Really? It's done?"
"Well…" Donghyuck taps his fingers on top of the TupperWare container. "Again, it's hard to test against the sample I drew from you that first night, because it's useless until you are here. But, yeah...I think it's done." Donghyuck tries his best not to beam, he really does. It's hard, when he's been pulling his hair out for so long. "Which reminds me."
He releases the container with the instructions not to touch and makes his way upstairs to grab the curse out of his bag. He could test the cure on Johnny himself — Donghyuck is 99% sure it wouldn't kill him — but he'd rather attempt the safer option first.
Oddly, when he gets back Johnny is hunched over himself, his head in his hands. This is the true explanation for his being windswept, clearly, because he's raking his hands through superbly styled hair and leaves it an absolute mess. Donghyuck isn't one to judge but it's a far cry from the usual grooming he sees from Johnny. "Is everything okay?"
Johnny startles, turning around to stare at Donghyuck and his makeshift curse container. His eyes are wide, still red. Donghyuck wonders if he's been crying.
"Yeah," Johnny says, thick. "Everything is fine."
Donghyuck isn't the type to pry — alright, he absolutely is the type to pry, but Johnny looks like one small tap might send him over the edge and Donghyuck isn't sure where he'll land. "If you say so." He sets the container on the counter and pops the lid.
Johnny looks into the container curiously, but he likely can't see anything. The magic is something beyond human sight; it's a feeling more than anything. When Donghyuck looks at it, he sees something dark and ugly waking up when its host is near.
"Perfect." He pulls the container with the cure a little closer and struggles taking the lid off. "I'm not sure if this will be interesting to you but I'm about to have a really great time." He loves cure testing. He digs his fingernails under the firm plastic and tries to get the latch to release, tongue between his teeth.
Hands pull the TupperWare out of Donghyuck's grasp and gently take off the lid. Johnny makes a face at what's inside before pushing it back towards the witch. "Gross."
"This is going to go all over you in like, a single minute." Donghyuck pulls out a short glass and separates some of his sample. Johnny can't see the magic, but when Donghyuck drops it into the glass they can all see the condensation it creates.
Johnny picks it and looks at it from all angles. "Is there...water?"
Donghyuck plucks it back. "Careful, man. You'll get curse everywhere." He sets it back down on the table. "No water. It's just the magic getting accustomed to a new space. It likes changing things." There are instruments and tools scattered all over his kitchen from his dish washing and his potion making and his general inability to really put anything away. He plucks a clean spoon out of the drying rack and scoops up some sludge.
He doesn't even haven't to drop it into the cup before the curse starts reacting; that shrill buzzing of magic begging to be spared. "Not today, bitch," Donghyuck says, eyebrows drawn. The unnatural magic is attracted to the spoon, thin tendrils curling over metal. The material turns a milky white.
As soon as the cure hits the bottom of the glass, it cracks.
Donghyuck hums. "I love it when I destroy things." That's one more cup he never has to wash. It looks gross. It looked gross before Donghyuck mixed in the curse and it looks even worse after, but dark magic isn't supposed to look pretty.
Johnny bites his lip and looks at Donghyuck inspecting the outcome. "I'm not going to crack like the cup, am I?"
"Don't be a baby." Donghyuck sniffs. "You're not made of glass."
That tonal ringing in Johnny's chest, that overlay of magic that offsets the rest of his bearing, grows louder and louder. Donghyuck tries not to be too proud of himself. Johnny rubs his hand over his chest. "So after this it will be okay?"
"Should be." Donghyuck empties the cup out and makes sure nothing dangerous is left. He should probably be wearing gloves. "You won't get to be in love with me anymore." He clicks his tongue. "Tragic."
The man is unusually quiet.
Donghyuck puts the cup in the sink and washes his hands. "Come on, man. What's up with you?" He wipes his hands on the dirty towel and crosses his arms over his chest. "You should be jumping for joy. I'm about to heal you of your ailment. I'm your Jesus."
Johnny chews on the inside of his mouth. "What if the curse is broken?"
Donghyuck blinks several times, tries to wrap his brain around the words and finds that he can't. "What?"
"Is that even possible?" Johnny runs his hands through his hair at alarming speeds. "What if the spell inside me isn't working right anymore—"
"—It wasn't working right to begin with—"
"—and the cure doesn't work because the curse changed."
Donghyuck shakes his head. "I mean...I won't say that's not possible." Especially with magic as touchy as this one, they can morph on their own, but they require a lot of negative energy to feed on in order to evolve. Johnny has seemed fine until today, but…Donghyuck will appease him. "Take off your shirt."
Johnny blanches. "Excuse me?"
"Let me see." Donghyuck laughs. "I'm not going to steal your virtue. It'll be just like the first time." He's spent so much time staring this curse in its beady little eyes he'll know if it's shifted as soon as he looks it sideway. "Just to...I know you're not made of glass, but maybe you need the reminder."
"It's not that." But Johnny is already slowly unbuttoning his shirt with careful fingers. His eyes are firmly looking above Donghyuck's head. "I just...it's been weird lately. It's been weird."
"I don't mind double checking." Donghyuck makes sure his hands are completely dry when Johnny opens his shirt enough to let Donghyuck touch his skin. "Touching isn't exactly a hardship." He presses his fingertips against the muscles of Johnny's chest and feels the other man exhale like he's been holding his breath. Johnny's fingers circle his wrist.
Palm flat, Donghyuck pokes around. He feels Johnny's breathing. He scraps at the shadow hanging around Johnny's rib cage. It has shifted a little, almost receded, like maybe Johnny has weakened it himself, or the original caster didn't add enough magic for the curse to last indefinitely. But it's still sticky, pulling at Donghyuck's fingers and clinging to Johnny desperately. Donghyuck purses his mouth, lost in thought.
He looks up at Johnny. "It seems the same to me."
The sound of Johnny overwhelms everything else in Donghyuck's ear for a hanging moment. His eyes are wide, blown, and he feels...well. He feels almost electric under Donghyuck's hand. It isn't the curse. It's something else. Or maybe both.
Johnny shifts, and Donghyuck is so confused he lets him.
Donghyuck can see why someone might be so desperate as to curse this man. His mouth is sweet and his hands are sweeter.
Johnny tilts Donghyuck's face upwards with a finger, brings him just close enough to brush their lips together. He tastes like coffee and too much creamer and something else. The other hand that had been around Donghyuck's wrist twists until their fingers are locked together. Donghyuck breathes and Johnny breathes with him, curling closer and tilting his head to slot them together that much better.
In the back of Donghyuck's throat there's a whining noise rising up unbidden. It's not his fault — he just really likes kisses, and Johnny is a good kisser.
It's all very chaste, really. Johnny pulls back after what feels like forever but is only a moment. Donghyuck follows the movement, pulling into orbit, and opens his eyes with a fluttering blink. Johnny is looking at him too closely when he returns to earth. "Uh…"
"You blush really easily," Johnny says, swallowing something down. Donghyuck watches his Adam's apple move with glazed eyes.
As soon as the words process he covers his cheeks with both hands. "Yeah. It's not just you. It's—" He coughs. "Yeah." He laughs and it sounds strangled. "Sorry. Is that what you mean about it changing?"
Johnny couldn't even look Donghyuck in the eye a moment ago. Now it's like Donghyuck is all he sees. "Yeah." Johnny shakes his head and looks at the ceiling, like he realized his gaze was too heavy, but the moment he moves away from Donghyuck the panic sets in. Donghyuck can see it in the set of his shoulders and the shake of his hands.
"Well…" Donghyuck shakes the fog out of his head. "Sorry. I'm trying to think of a reason you might suddenly like, not be able to remember it's all magic. You didn't have that problem before, right?" He bustles over to where his notebook is open by the stove. "You always knew it wasn't real, right?"
"I...well, yes." Johnny slumps the bar stool. "After."
"After…" Donghyuck feels like he's been light on fire and then smothered in snow. He sets his hands on the counter and racks his brain. The distress radiating off of Johnny is palpable, a human lump collapsed in Donghyuck's kitchen. Donghyuck chews on his thumb. "You haven't kissed anyone else because of this, have you?"
The look on Johnny's face is telling enough.
Donghyuck groans, hands in the air. "I don't get it! It hasn't changed! Why would that suddenly be an issue?" The idea that Johnny truly thought he was in love with him only moments ago is a little heady — Donghyuck enjoys being wanted as much as the next person — but the despair that came after paints everything black. It was mildly inconvenient when Johnny had the wherewithal to hold himself back, but if he's going around kissing anyone who looks at him that's another problem entirely. Donghyuck flips through his notebook, aggressive enough to rip paper. "I swear to god, if I ever meet this caster in the street they'd better walk the other way—"
Donghyuck jolts when he feels a hand tugging on the back of his shirt. "That's not the problem," Johnny says again, almost somber. Donghyuck twists around to stare at him, brittle paper falling through his hands.
"It's a problem if you think you're so in love with people you can't consent," Donghyuck says. "That's not okay." There's a rock in Donghyuck's stomach.
Johnny's fist tightens in Donghyuck's shirt. He looks like an advertisement in a magazine, standing pretty in Donghyuck's kitchen with his shirt open. There are so many question marks on his face, uncertainty that Donghyuck isn't used to seeing. "What if I'm actually in love with you?"
The paper rings out of the spine. "Uh…?" Donghyuck turns around, pressed up against the kitchen counter. Johnny is much taller than he is, and very intense, and also very close. "Johnny, we've known each other for like, a week and a half. You know that isn't true."
For what it's worth, Johnny doesn't look love drunk — he looks awful. He looks like a nervous wreck, a little green around the edges like something isn't sitting right in his stomach, and his hands are fluttering like he isn't sure where to put them. "You didn't like it when we kissed?"
Donghyuck takes a deep breath. "That's not what I said, but—"
"If you like it after a couple of weeks then who's to say I'm crazy?"
"I am not calling you crazy." Donghyuck says this as firmly as he can, because Johnny's sanity isn't the problem. Donghyuck's own sanity feels a bit frayed, but that's a different conversation. "I'm saying that you're under the influence of malevolent magic, which is arguably worse. The moment you look at someone else you'll hate yourself for this conversation."
"You don't know that." Johnny already looks like he hates himself. There's a magic film over his eyes right now, one Johnny has always been able to see, but his mind has always been clear. Donghyuck isn't sure where the clouds are coming from.
"If you really loved me," Donghyuck says slowly, "you wouldn't feel like shit right now."
Johnny clenches his jaw, but he doesn't deny anything. His face just gets cloudier, more unsure. "I'm not looking at you when we're texting or on the phone or anything."
Donghyuck can't believe he's having this conversation. His head aches. He needs more sleep and a Red Bull. "That's not love."
"Fine." Johnny startings buttoning his shirt bottom to top with his jittery hands. There's a visible piecing back together, between the shirt and the deep breath and the blank curtain over his face that can't quite hide what Donghyuck has already seen. "I wasn't looking at you when I kissed one of my staff members this morning, but it was you I was thinking of."
"You kissed one of your staff members?" Donghyuck thinks he's going to pass out.
"That's really what you're concerned about right now?" Johnny laughs, tight in all the corners. "I haven't been able to get under your skin this entire time and I finally did it, huh?" He rolls his eyes when Donghyuck's mouth drops, covered delicately with his hand. "Don't look so surprised. You started flirting with me first."
"You seemed pretty much in control of your faculties! I didn't think I would be like...preying on the weak." Donghyuck's headache seems to be ever growing. "God, I'm so fucked. This is so unprofessional."
Johnny takes a deep breath, eyes back to the ceiling. "It's not…"
"Are you about to say it's not a big deal?" Donghyuck glares at him. "Because if so you're talking shit." He puts his hands on his hips. "I know you think you're in love with me for real, but you know there's some outside influences there, right?"
"I've looked at a million people this week," Johnny says with a set jaw, shoving his hands in his pockets, "and you're the one I thought of. I felt guilty kissing her because of you."
"And you seriously don't see the problem there?" Donghyuck shakes his head. He knows Johnny sees the problem there. He knows Johnny isn't fighting back as much as he could, because Johnny knows this is wrong. "Even if...even if this isn't just the curse and it's something else, you really don't think the curse had some kind of hand in it?"
Johnny huffs with his entire body sagging. "I don't know," he admits, sinking. "But you're different."
"I'm new and charming and you don't have deeply rooted platonic feelings for me to ground you." Donghyuck rubs his forehead. This isn't the first time it's happened like this, but it's the first time it sets something so sour in Donghyuck's stomach. "I'm sorry." He clicks his tongue. "I should have paid more attention."
It's hard to say how Johnny is feeling. Honestly, Donghyuck doesn't know him well. He knows how Johnny handles stress and he knows how Johnny reacts to pressure and he knows Johnny's McDonald's order, but there's a lot of space between the things Donghyuck knows.
But when Johnny looks at Donghyuck, Donghyuck knows Johnny is angry. "I'm not saying any of this to make you love me back—"
"You kissed me," Donghyuck says, a bit colder than he might have did he not feel it necessary. "What was that meant to be if not reciprocated?"
"I just wanted…" Johnny pulls at his hair. "I just wanted to know if it was real. I don't know." His mouth pulls down horribly at the corners, brow creased. "I don't know anything."
It's hard, trying to tell someone their feelings aren't valid — or rather, that someone shouldn't act on them, or trust them, or really feel them. So instead, Donghyuck just asks, "We kissed and your heart sank. Do you think it's real?"
Johnny covers his eyes, runs a hand down his face. He's tired. "I don't know." He looks at Donghyuck's mouth and then away, sharply. "I'm sorry."
"Johnny." Donghyuck reaches out tentatively, touching the other man's elbow lightly. "I don't care. It's fine. I don't…" There are harder things than a beautiful man's confused feelings, or his kisses. "But you'll care. After all of this is done you'll wake up and you'll care that you kissed that random witch you met a week ago, okay?"
Johnny glances at where Donghyuck's hand touches his arm and says, "I don't know." He straightens, everything set back in place. "I'm not sure I will." He bows, head inclined. Donghyuck doesn't know how to respond. "I'm sorry for the trouble. Thank you."
"Wait," Donghyuck says weakly, but he doesn't move when Johnny turns on his heels and walks out of the kitchen. He sighs in time with the front door closing.
"Mreow." Jeno appears out of nowhere on the island, sitting lazily next to the still opened cure and the dirty spoon Donghyuck had used to break glass. "Mreow."
"Oh, shoot." Donghyuck slams the lid back down and races to the front door with it in his hands. "Johnny!" When he opens the door he sneezes horribly, fumbling the TupperWare. His eyes get blurry. His throat burns.
The shop has shifted.
He's on another street, bustling with new people Donghyuck has never seen before. None of them pay Donghyuck any attention.
"Really?" Donghyuck turns on his heels and shoots daggers at this front door. "Really?" The shop would laugh at him if it could.
Jeno slinks out through the open door and flops down in the sunlight.
At least there's no smog.
"He kissed you and now he's not answering any of your calls?" Renjun rolls his eyes. "Typical."
"What about this is typical?" Donghyuck wails. He's been forced to put the cure in the freezer so it doesn't fizzle out before he can help his client. "He is magicked into being in love with me?"
Chenle sneezes in Renjun's lap and it sounds suspiciously like a laugh.
Donghyuck points at the cat with his spoon. "Don't make me come over there." He's stress-baking in Renjun's apartment because he's got no space on his counter and is determined not to clean. The flour makes it look like a crime scene.
"Don't be mean to my familiar," Renjun says absently, flicking through a magazine.
"Why not?" Donghyuck whisks the fuck out of his scratch cake batter. "I'm mean to you all the time."
"This is only the third time one of your clients fell in love with you by accident." Renjun gives Donghyuck a flat look and lips his finger to turn the page. "What ever will you do?"
Donghyuck grits his teeth, but it's hard to get really angry at Renjun when he's speaking the truth. "To be fair," he says, sober, "the other two times were funny." This isn't funny. If Johnny felt guilty kissing that girl then Donghyuck feels three times guiltier for making him feel that way.
It's been two days since the confession from hell and that bitter feeling hasn't left Donghyuck's stomach. Johnny hasn't texted him back. The curse is still sitting in a frozen lump beside a bag of two-month-old chicken strips.
Renjun whistles. "I mean, I get it." He folds the magazine back and holds it up for Donghyuck to see, and there's a huge spread of Johnny and one of his other members lounging seductively on a bed with their shirts off. "Look at him."
Donghyuck covers his eyes with his hands dramatically. "I will not."
"I'm just saying, like, I get it." Renjun makes an appreciative face and keeps flipping through. "This other guy is hot, too. Do you think Johnny would give you his number to give to me? Can that be his price?" He turns another page. "Actually, just all of their numbers. I'd like to be in an NCT group chat, please."
"Over Jaemin's dead body."
Renjun shrugs. "That can be arranged."
Donghyuck throws the whisk aggressively in the bowl. "Johnny won't answer me, so I don't think he'll give me their numbers." Everyday that Johnny goes around with that shadow in his chest Donghyuck feels worse and worse. He's even been keeping a regular eye on the news outlets to see if there are any scandals with fans.
"Too bad." Renjun hums. "What about that recruiter?"
"Who?" Donghyuck groans into his flower covered hands.
"Didn't you say you got that hot staff member's number?" Renjun says, and the words finally trigger an electric shock. "The fae?"
"Yuta." Donghyuck feels like the heavens just opened. "I can call Yuta."
"You can call Yuta," Renjun says placatingly. If he weren't so interested in the pretty magazine maybe he'd take the time to be smug. He's probably just saving it for later; for now he'll settle for being patronizing.
Donghyuck pulls his phone out and scrolls through his single digit contacts. He has no idea what day it is but people in the entertainment industry probably work everyday, right? The phone rings. He holds his breath.
A pickup. "Hello?"
"Yuta!" Donghyuck could cry with relief.
"Sorry, who is this?"
"Donghyuck!" He clears his throat. He's not sure if the fae even really remembered his name. The ones that don't steal them tend not to care about them at all. "The witch."
"Oh, yeah! Johnny's witch." Donghyuck feels his heart shrivel. "What's up?"
"Is Johnny okay?"
"Huh?" Yuta pauses. "Haven't you guys been working together?"
Donghyuck rolls something bitter in his mouth. "He's a baby and won't answer my calls."
"Oh." Yuta laughs, loud and robust. It's not delicate, like Donghyuck always pictures fae laughter to be. "That would explain a lot. Do you need me to trick him into calling you?"
"Do you think it would work?" Donghyuck purposefully does not think about the implication that Johnny has been acting weird lately. Honestly, Johnny should be falling in love with at least five different people every day. He shouldn't be caught up on Donghyuck at all, no matter how charming or new he is.
Yuta makes a considering noise and there's a quiet shuffling. "I don't think so. He's really stubborn when he's moping." He laughs again. "I thought he was moody because of that thing with the makeup artist but you make a lot more sense."
"What thing with the makeup artist?"
"Honestly I don't really know what happened. I walked into the green room and they were making out on the couch. He looked like a crazy person as soon as I walked in. I assumed it was the whole magic business." Yuta is humming a song under his breath, hardly bothered. "I'm a little offended he hasn't tried to kiss me, truth be told."
Donghyuck huffs. "I don't know what's with him and kissing people all of a sudden." He assumes this woman was the staff member Johnny had mentioned, but there's no telling if things have devolved even further since then. "He wasn't like that before. Now I think it's all getting to his head."
Yuta pauses. "Maybe."
"Oh." Donghyuck scratches his mouth and tastes flour. Gross. "Maybe..."
"I'll look into it." Yuta's still as unbothered as ever. "Anyway, after I found him he bolted out and missed like two whole schedules and then he came back like a raging animal. Please fix him. I'm tired of the attitude."
Donghyuck laughs, but on the other end there's another voice, not too far away. Who are you talking about? Donghyuck hears, if he strains to listen.
"You, bitch," Yuta answers, only slightly muffled. "I'm talking to your witch. Want to say hi?"
There's shuffling, and then the call shuts off abruptly with only Yuta's laugh as warning.
Donghyuck looks at his phone in disbelief. "Men are such babies," he whines at Chenle, throwing the phone aside and putting his hands on his hips.
Chenle agrees by making paw prints in flour.
Jeno curls around Donghyuck's ankles as he stands in front of the warehouse doors. "You're going to get me in trouble," Donghyuck tells him heatlessly. The cat curls his tail around Donghyuck's calf and mewls at him. "Will you just get in the bag?"
"I don't know why I even ask." Donghyuck rolls his eyes and Jeno jumps up to stand on his witch's shoulder. "You're so annoying."
Jeno bites gently on his ear.
The strap of Donghyuck's bag digs into his chest as he shuffles awkwardly in front of the building. He has a McDonald's bag in one hand and his fingers are greasy from a couple of fries he's already stolen. He sees Yuta open the back door to the warehouse and breathes a sigh of relief. "I thought you were going to leave me hanging."
"I thought about it." Yuta grins as he opens the gate and lets Donghyuck onto the property. He's dressed in a black t-shirt and jeans today, much more professionally, but it just makes his hair look that much lighter. Honestly, he's eye-catching. "I figured it'd be more fun to let you in."
"Valid." Jeno's hackles rise as Donghyuck passes the other man but he stays where he is. Fae are too powerful to mess with too much. Donghyuck isn't surprised Yuta has been successful in this industry. "Sorry about him." Donghyuck runs a hand over Jeno's spine until the cat's tail curls over his fingers.
"He can hiss all he wants." Yuta opens the door to the warehouse. "If he bites, just know I bite back."
Jeno sneezes in Yuta's general direction.
The warehouse is bustling with staff. It's an open layout, but there are people setting up lights and props and someone is running around carrying an enormous potted fern. The umbrella lights hover tall over everything while the photographer gets his camera set up.
"I don't recognize anyone," Donghyuck says carefully.
"Lucky you." Yuta pulls Donghyuck along and out through the door on the other end, nearly forcing Donghyuck to trip over untapped cables. Jeno yowls. No one bats an eye. Magic is awesome.
"Careful." Donghyuck stumbles to keep up as they enter the sunlight again. "Not all of us have otherworldly grace."
"If you want to become a trainee, I'm sure someone can teach you." Yuta's wink is wicked. "I'm hardly the only creature in the industry."
Donghyuck can only roll his eyes before Yuta opens the door to the trailer.
There's no air conditioning; that's the first thing Donghyuck notices. The second thing is the rack of ridiculous outfits. Donghyuck sees leather and studs, and sequins and more feathers than he thinks anyone could ever pull off.
After that, the only thing that really pulls attention is 1) the mess and 2) the people.
There are three people in the trailer. One of them is the man who had been in the magazine with Johnny, and the second is the woman putting red tint on the man's mouth, and the third one is Johnny, who sits sulking on the couch. Johnny, whose eyes narrow as soon as Donghyuck walks into the room with his cat on his shoulder and his bag in his hands.
Donghyuck pets Jeno's head and meets Johnny's eye, but there's no boldness today; Johnny looks away as soon as he sees Donghyuck is real.
Is that shame?
"Jaehyun?" Yuta calls, and the handsome man getting his makeup done looks at Yuta with his eyebrows raised. The woman clicks her tongue at the sudden movement. "The artistic director wants to talk with you."
Jaehyun snorts, a sharp break from the rest of his overwhelmingly attractive appearance, and the woman steps aside so he can get out of his chair. "Sure." He puts his hands in his pockets. He's tall and broad and there's a bit of dance when he has to pass by Donghyuck and Yuta. "Nice cat," he says, shuffling past.
"Oh, uh, thanks." Donghyuck wrinkles his nose when Jeno nuzzles against his cheek, trying to be cute for more compliments. "Ignore him."
Yuta ushers Jaehyun out of the trailer, and then he turns to the woman. "Minju, I actually need to talk to you."
"Sure you do," Johnny says softly, and Minju looks between him and the mess of product on the vanity before ducking her head and exiting the room.
"Have fun!" Yuta chirps, shutting the door.
The room seems a lot darker without the light from outside, but maybe Johnny's sour attitude plays its own part. He's pouting, hands shoved in his pockets and slumped low on the couch. Donghyuck is fed up with whiny men.
"Cheer up, buttercup." Jeno jumps off his shoulder and onto the makeup table as Donghyuck passes, admiring himself in the mirror. Donghyuck throws his bag on the table. Everything rustles in Donghyuck's bag and rattles on the table. There's makeup everywhere. He brushes blush off of the counter and looks at Johnny in the mirror. "Aren't you happy to see me?"
Johnny makes eye contact through the reflection, and Donghyuck doesn't see the fall this time; he just sees the strain in the corner of Johnny's eyes. His makeup is already done, mouth a little pink and skin flawless, but he's wearing sweats and his hair is still setting in its clips. "Of course I'm happy to see you." It's quiet. It sounds real. There's a snarl hiding in the corners of his mouth. It's definitely shame.
Donghyuck knew Johnny would have regrets the moment he walked out of Donghyuck's shop. He just knew it. It doesn't feel great to be right, but it's still affirming.
Carefully, Donghyuck sets the McDonald's bag on the couch at Johnny's side. "Funny." Donghyuck pats Jeno on the head a single time before aggressively digging out his supplies. "I could have sworn you were avoiding me."
"Why would you think that?" Johnny looks wide-eyed and innocent, and Donghyuck laughs despite himself. Even tense, they're both in on the joke. Johnny's hand curls around the bag, grease and all. The crinkling of the paper sounds too loud.
Donghyuck watches idly as Johnny pulls out his McGriddle and hold it in his hands. "It's almost like you didn't want to be cured anymore."
Johnny hums. "It...well." He moves to run a hand through hair before remembering it's still setting. His hand is stuck in the air, movement aborted, before falling back into his lap. "That's not really what I was avoiding."
No kidding. "I had to bully Yuta into cornering you, you know." Donghyuck hums. "That's not very professional."
"Please." Johnny rolls his eyes. "Yuta was probably more than happy to throw me under the bus."
"Maybe he just wants you to be okay." Donghyuck thinks about asking if Johnny was really moping the past few days, but that seems like dangerous territory. "Walking around with dark magic stuck to your ribs...I imagine it's grating for fae." They all have some kind of intolerance to it.
"He keeps sneezing whenever he walks by but I think it's just to be a shit."
Donghyuck can see it. "Well...I'm still glad I got hold of him. You're too good at running."
Johnny looks a bit pained. "I guess."
"I just, uh..." Between the two of them, it's Johnny who has regrets, but Donghyuck has to admit he feels just as awkward. Johnny is sucking on his teeth, clearly uncomfortable — even guilty, something that Donghyuck hadn't truly expected. "I just need a couple of minutes." Donghyuck reaches into his work bag elbow deep and pulls out a pair of gloves, a small tool for spreading, and the mostly-thawed sludge he'd set out on his table this morning like a chicken breast. It's still cold, but Donghyuck doesn't feel bad making Johnny suffer just a little bit — it's his own fault after all.
Johnny smiles at him, laughing even if it falls a bit flat. "Should I take my shirt off?"
"Cheeky." Donghyuck opens the lid this time all on his own. "But also, like, yes. Sorry."
For what it's worth, Johnny doesn't complain. He takes his t-shirt off, careful not to mess up the product on his face. "I hate Yuta," he says cheerfully, setting his shirt to the side and pulling out a handful of fries.
Donghyuck pulls his gloves on. "No, you don't."
"I have to say," Donghyuck notes, picking up his knife and scooping up still-cold cure, "you're taking this much better than expected, considering."
"Considering, what?" Johnny raises an eyebrow, dry. "That I made out with you and this is super awkward now?"
Donghyuck grimaces good-naturedly. "I wouldn't really call it making out." It was more of a soft first kiss, something to cherish. It seems a bit out of place in the plane of their relationship, nestled amongst the easy flirty and the magic. He supposes there is some kind of connection there — not everyone can keep up with him, but a week or two is just too short for...Donghyuck doesn't dwell on it. "This will also be awkward." When Donghyuck presses his left hand to poke at the darkness in Johnny's chest, he pauses.
"What?" Johnny asks, one hand raising slightly to touch Donghyuck's wrist before thinking better of it. "Is something wrong?"
"Has it been bothering you much?" Donghyuck asks carefully.
"Not really," Johnny admits. "My chest...hurts."
"Yeah, like it's tight all the time. It's hard to breathe sometimes, like when you exercise but you're sick." He thinks about it. "I don't really notice falling in love anymore. Maybe I'm just getting used to it? Maybe before was just...a flare." A fever sweating out, like magic works that way.
Donghyuck chews on his lip. "Maybe." Johnny's not getting used to it; the magic is sleeping.
It's still there, still sticky and desperate, but it feels more like the lump of curse sitting dormant on Donghyuck's work desk than the living breathing demon it is on Johnny's heartstrings. When Donghyuck tries to slip his fingers underneath and pry it up it still does not move. It's not active at all. It's thick and solid, almost like stone.
"Look at me." And when Johnny does — "Are you in love with me?"
Johnny looks sad, and then guilty. He looks at the McGriddle in his lap, mouth pursed. "A little bit."
The curse doesn't twitch.
"I tried to get over it," Johnny continues while Donghyuck leans back and processes. "I know...you're right. It's not...I can't trust myself." He says it like it's heartbreaking. It is, probably; Donghyuck has never known what that feels like but he can't imagine it's kind.
Still, if Johnny is looking at him and feeling something, the magic in his chest barely beats.
A heavy pause, and a deep breath. Jeno curls his tail around Donghyuck's ankle and startles him out of his thoughts. "Okay." Soft and considering. Donghyuck swallows his own tongue. The magic is sleeping now, for whatever reason. The curse is there and could activate — should activate — but isn't. Donghyuck lets it sink and tries to think of the ramifications.
True love and unnatural magic really don't mix.
He clears his throat. This is a bit more complicated than he'd expected. "Let's just do this." When he pulls his hand away he takes a deep breath. The curse needs to be removed. Donghyuck will remove it. End of story.
Johnny is quiet while Donghyuck works. He is always quiet, always carefully watching the magic flows as though his eyes could see it in the first place, but the work is easy now. Donghyuck has already done the bulk of it and no longer needs to concentrate. If anything, his brain is working too hard and he'd like a bit of distraction. "Why do you never talk while I do this shit?" he asks idly, eyes on his hands.
"You don't like it," Johnny says, easy. When Donghyuck looks up at him his eyes are closed. "Do you want conversation?"
"Well, you've been mysteriously absent for a few days. I wouldn't mind an update." Donghyuck thinks about being cheeky himself, asking if Johnny has kissed anyone else lately, but he's pretty sure that'd be crossing some kind of line.
"There's not much to tell." Johnny smiles and it's grim. "Haven't fallen so hard I can't get up. Always a plus."
"You haven't..." Donghyuck really needs to know. "You haven't kissed anyone else, have you?"
Johnny's expression contorts into something a little ugly. "No." He stares at Jeno sitting on the desk, pawing at brushes left out on the vanity. Donghyuck hopes they're not very expensive, but also doesn't care. Jeno does what he wants. "No, you were the last one."
Donghyuck doesn't know how to reply to that. Is that good? It confirms something Donghyuck doesn't want to look at too closely. It doesn't really change anything, as far as Donghyuck is concerned, and what Johnny doesn't know can't hurt him.
"You won't have to worry about that much longer." Donghyuck wipes the product off his knife and sighs. "Let it set for like...I don't know. Do you have ten minutes?"
Johnny nods slowly. "Yeah. I have ten minutes."
"Leave it for ten and then wipe it off with some wet wipes. Makeup wipes work fine but they're more expensive." Although there are a million packages thrown around, half empty, so maybe that would be the best option.
"Can you throw magic in the trash can?" Johnny glances at the mess of cure off his chest.
Donghyuck shrugs. "Some of it. This is fine." He takes off his gloves and throws them in the bin.
Johnny frowns. "Do I need gloves?"
"No, it's made for you." Donghyuck thinks for a moment. "Don't let Yuta touch it. It doesn't like magic in general." Honestly, breaking curses for magical creatures is usually much more time sensitive.
There's an awkward second when Donghyuck is leaning back in his chair, job done, and doesn't want to leave.
Johnny is chewing on his bottom lip. The makeup artist is going to kill him for eating all his lip product. "This is it then? I pay you and it's done?" Already the cure is doing good work and the sour note of dark magic is bleeding out of the air. Johnny's own sound is a lot smoother by itself, but Donghyuck's tune fits alongside it well.
Donghyuck hasn't even thought about payment, honestly. He's been so focused on the breaking. "Yeah," he says, wiping his palms on his pants. "I…" Money is fine. Donghyuck searches through his brain and can't find any price he thinks is fitting. "I'll just send you the bill, okay?" Jaehyun will be back any minute to get his makeup finished and Donghyuck doesn't want to deal with any awkward questions.
"Okay." Johnny moves to stand and, just before he reaches full height, he falters. His face turns white and he falls back on the cushions with a soft oof. "You're not—" He wheezes. "You're not trying to kill me, are you?"
"To be fair, I did tell you to let it set." It's a normal reaction. Donghyuck isn't worried about it. He presses the back of his hand to Johnny's forehead and finds it clammy. "It's been a part of you for a few weeks. It doesn't want to leave." He pulls a water bottle out of his bag and hands it to Johnny. "Drink the whole thing, okay?"
He doesn't need to stay while Johnny does as he's told. He only needs to stay until some of the color returns, slowly packing up his things and scratching a very quiet Jeno behind the ears until he has no excuse to stay any longer.
Johnny looks at him. If Donghyuck squints he can see the dark circles covered expertly by BB cream. "What happens if the curse leaves and I still love you?"
"You probably will." Donghyuck opens and closes pocket after pocket until he's no longer looking for anything other than something to do with his hands. "We never really established anything platonic. Your entire perception of me is colored by magic — it's the only way you really know me."
"Yeah." Even though it's in agreement Johnny still sounds heavy when he says it. He takes a long drink from the water bottle and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. "You're right."
Give it time, Donghyuck wants to say. Everything is better with time. "You'll heal."
Johnny smiles and it's a full-on idol smile, the kind that makes you swoon. Donghyuck can see why he's successful. "If I don't, I can just call you again, right?"
Donghyuck rolls his eyes, only partially to hide being flustered. He's a bad bitch. He doesn't need this. "You can call. I'll love taking money from the rich."
It doesn't change anything on Johnny's face. "And yet, here you are giving me a present."
"And that is?"
Donghyuck coughs into his shoulder to hide his surprise. Johnny says it with a kind of pointed intensity that Donghyuck only really sees in movies, but there's also an undercurrent of doubt in the line of Johnny's mouth. How hard must it be, where the line between trusting your heart and your head is so twisted and untrustworthy?
"The flirting...it's not as funny when you do it," Donghyuck grumbles, digging through his many pockets.
"Mreow." He wasn't joking.
Donghyuck would kill Jeno if he could. The cat curls around his shoulders. "I know you still think you're in love with me...that's fine, I guess. I just..." He huffs. "I just want you to be more careful with your heart, you know? You're still recovering." He hooks his bag over his shoulders, careful of the cat. It's long past his time to leave. Donghyuck rocks back and forth on his heels. Jeno bites his ear lightly to tease him, nibbling at his fingers when Donghyuck swats at him.
There are footsteps outside of the trailer, and Donghyuck thinks this is the most time Yuta could give them. He picks up a pack of wipes from the counter and tosses them towards Johnny. "You're probably good to clean off now." The dark impression of magic is almost completely gone. What's left of it is just a stale smell in the air. There are no windows to open.
"You don't want to double check?"
"You just want me to touch your chest again," Donghyuck replies, snorting.
Johnny looks at him evenly. "Maybe."
It's sobering. Donghyuck rolls his lips, sighs heavily. "I should go." He bows his head. "Thank you for working with me."
He feels Johnny's eyes on the back of his neck until he opens the door and breathes in the fresh air.
Jaehyun is waiting outside playing games on this phone, and the makeup artist is nowhere to be seen even though Yuta is also lingering outside the trailer. The idol looks up when Donghyuck walks out but doesn't bother moving until whatever game he's playing is appropriately completed. "All done in there?" he asks, sticking his phone in his pocket. He looks crazy with half of his face on, but there's enough beauty underneath it still makes Donghyuck a little breathless.
"Yeah, I'm done." Jeno curls his tail around Donghyuck's neck, purring when the other man passes until Jaehyun stops and runs a hand along the cat's spine. "You attention whore," Donghyuck whispers to his familiar.
Yuta is leaning against the building, looking very at ease. It's only then that Donghyuck realizes his entire body is tense. "How did it go?" Yuta asks, kicking off the wall with his hands in his pockets. He doesn't look very professional. He looks like a wild magical creature and Donghyuck was stupid to forget that he was.
"Why didn't you tell me the curse hasn't been activating?" Donghyuck demands. He's too tired to be really biting. He should be channeling Renjun right now, who has the energy to be snappy at any given moment.
"How would I know that?" Yuta asks, all fake innocence. Between him and Johnny and Donghyuck, Yuta wears it the best.
It's too bad Donghyuck knows he's full of shit. "You're the first one who knew he was cursed. You would be the first one to recognize it changed."
Yuta shrugs. "So? The magic is still there. He still needed to be cured."
"You didn't stop to wonder why it changed?" Donghyuck hisses.
"Oh, baby witch," Yuta says with a laugh, patting Donghyuck on the back as though he hadn't sent the witch bristling, "I know why it changed."
Donghyuck also knows why it changed. He thinks about it for a long time, long after Yuta has escorted him out of the warehouse and he's back on the bus. He thinks about it on the walk home from the bus stop, and thinks about it when he enters his shop. He thinks about it while he continues to not do the dishes or the laundry.
True love's kiss is a powerful ingredient anywhere in its timeline, but it's also a bitch.
He throws his bag down on his work desk. He washes magic down the drain and runs the disposal. He rinses out the empty sour cream container and throws it in the garbage.
Jeno gets in his way and hisses when Donghyuck pets him with a damp hand.
"True love, huh?" Donghyuck asks the air.
"Mreow." Took you long enough.
Donghyuck shoves the cat off the counter.
"Thoughts on true love theory?"
"Good morning." Renjun yawns, scratching his stomach. "Why are you in my house?"
Donghyuck is standing on his friend's doorstep early in the morning, Jeno on his shoulder and Chenle nipping at his heels. He holds up a basket. "I'm making you breakfast and stealing your books."
"In that case." Renjun steps aside and lets Donghyuck through the doorway.
It's been two weeks since the last time Donghyuck saw Johnny. He's been using his computer more often than ever, although his phone has been sitting uselessly in a drawer somewhere where it can do him no harm. The phone allows him too much power, but the computer is a little less personal — he can keep track of all sorts of news without the need to text anyone he'd rather leave alone.
Johnny is doing well. Yuta texted him the day after he left the trailer to tell Donghyuck the magic was completely gone and only gave a snide comment or two about the supposed lucky charm. Donghyuck didn't bother texting him back beyond a short thank you. It would be best to keep Yuta in his pocket — powerful fae make great friends and greater enemies — but Donghyuck can't stop himself from snipping threads. It would be best to let things grow organically, but to do that there needs to be some space.
Donghyuck has the feeling he'll meet Yuta again eventually.
As far as he knows, Johnny hasn't texted him a single time, but in that way ignorance is bliss. It's Schrodinger's text, hiding quietly in that drawer where Donghyuck can't see it. Johnny filled his bill and that's all Donghyuck needs.
"Why are you asking me about true love?" Renjun asks over a cup of tea. He used to drink coffee until he saw the kind of shit Jaemin drinks and now both he and Donghyuck have been limiting their intake.
"No reason," Donghyuck says, frying eggs while the rice cooks. There's an open book beside the sink, a little dangerous — Donghyuck already spilled cooking oil on one of the pages — but it's difficult to read and keep the eggs from burning at the same time. "Just curious."
Renjun stirs honey into his mug with an unimpressed expression. "I'm not exactly an expert."
"No one is an expert," Donghyuck retorts.
"Yeah, because true love is like, the hardest kind of magic for unnatural mages to work with." Renjun huffs. "You should ask your fae friend. He probably knows more about how it works."
"We're not friends." Donghyuck sniffs.
"Bitch, neither are we."
"You're just mad I woke you up."
Chenle sneezes on the rice maker and Renjun glares at him.
"Look, if you're in love with Johnny just admit you're in love with Johnny," Renjun says, mumbling into his tea as he takes a sip. "It's not that hard. All the magical theory is for people with brain cells and I don't grow mine until mid-afternoon."
Donghyuck flips a page in the book, but Renjun is right. "I'm not in love with him."
Renjun looks at him blankly. "Yet."
"Yet," Donghyuck agrees.
Past, present, future — true love is powerful anywhere in its timeline.
"I just..." Donghyuck chews on his lip.
"Do you really think that kissing you was what made Johnny's curse go into remission?" Jeno walks over the counter and Renjun feeds him part of his bagel. There are dark circles under Renjun's eyes.
Donghyuck has been flipping back and forth over it. Maybe it was the kiss, maybe it was the disastrous nature of a shoddy spell, maybe it was something Donghyuck hasn't considered, back to maybe it was the kiss.
"Yeah, I think so," he says eventually.
"Then stop looking in my books and decide whether you want to tell him or not." Renjun takes an aggressive bite of his untoasted bagel and waves his hand. "You're in my house before noon willingly cooking for me to get information. Get a life."
Donghyuck jabs at Renjun with his greasy spatula. "True love is a big deal!"
"God, yeah." Renjun forgets to be morning-moody and gets a little starry eyed. "Imagine all the spells you could try if you had true love's kiss just like, there. Ugh. I'm jealous."
That would definitely be a bonus.
Mostly, Donghyuck just wants to know if he's right.
Renjun feeds Jeno more of his breakfast. "The eggs are burning."
Renjun's books don't have any answers that Donghyuck doesn't already know. He knows that true love is unstudied and he knows that it does weird things and he knows even the promise of it is enough.
He also knows he will not be telling Johnny about it.
It's just nice to know he's right.
Donghyuck turns out to be right about quite a few things.
Yuta calls him on a sunny afternoon and tells him as much. It's not unexpected — both of them know how to do their research. "You can handle it if you want," Yuta tells him over the phone. "I'm too pretty to be frightening."
"That's a lie start to finish," Donghyuck notes, running his fingers along Jeno's back. "But I won't say I don't enjoy being scary every once in a while."
Donghyuck considers himself more of a problem solver than anything else. Sure, he enjoys research and creation, he likes coming up with new things, but at his core he likes solving puzzles. It's why he's tempted to accept commissions in the first place. There's something truly satisfying about picking something apart and putting it back together.
Sometimes it's fun to cast that aside and cause problems instead.
Donghyuck pulls out his official robes from the back of his closet, crumpled black velvet and too heavy for the season. The bottom flows beautifully, and the craftsmanship is impeccable. It's truly the nicest thing he owns. It's hideous.
More than looking the part, magic matters.
There's a certain song every magic wielder has, a weight and a power that is felt completely and totally by the world around them. Most witches keep their own tunes to themselves — it's considered impolite to walk around with magic dripping from your fingers, but more than that most witches enjoy being underestimated. There's a pride in power, and nothing is more powerful than an ace up your sleeve.
Donghyuck does not hide his song tonight.
It flows freely. In many ways it's a release of tension, and the set of Donghyuck's shoulders is more relaxed that he's truly felt in months. He strolls through the streets with his chin high, his ugly robes billowing out behind him until he looks far bigger than his frame. People stop and stare until they look away and forget they saw something in the first place.
Even if it's nice to be underestimated, Donghyuck has always been a show-off. And more than that he relishes in flaunting what other people can never have.
He really is an incredible witch.
The parking lot is dark and the lights are flickering. It's the perfect atmosphere for something frightening. There are few cars and the hour is late. Footsteps are hurried, keys jingle.
"Hello, dear," he says, perched delicately on the hood of a bright yellow clunker. He's going to have dirt on his ass but it's worth it for the image. His clothes billow out, more than a shadow but just as haunting.
Footsteps halt, and Donghyuck grins at the figure of the young woman halted mere feet away. She's pretty, he'll give her that. She glows only slightly, the hint of tainted magic, but her song is drowned out under the weight of Donghyuck's power. Even as meager as her spark is, she should feel the full brunt of his. Even in the grim lighting he sees her face pale.
"Don't worry," he says. His hood is drawn, and he knows she cannot see his face. It doesn't matter. "I'm not here for any...nefarious reasons." Mildly nefarious, but mostly for her own good.
For what it's worth, she holds her ground. She shouldn't. "Who are you?"
"Someone who knows what they're doing." Donghyuck tilts his head to the side. "Can you say as much?"
The magic she sends his way is laughable. He swats it away with the back of his hand.
"I appreciate a girl who tries to rise above her station," he admits. "But a butchered curse, really?" Donghyuck clicks his tongue. "Irritating. You're lucky it didn't kill you."
She grips her purse with both hands. Her face is more awed than frightened. Donghyuck remembers being a fledgling and gaping at his seniors. There's something that feels so unattainable. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Donghyuck stands up. "Of course not." They never seem to, when faced with the consequences. "Despite that, I'll give a warning: if you pull that, you'll be eaten from the inside."
Her face is grim. "Is that a threat?"
"I thought you didn't know what I was talking about?" He clicks his tongue and steps away from the car, dark fabric billowing behind. "And no. It's just an observation. Curses from the dark web? I've scraped mediocre witches off the floor from trying as much."
The woman's magic is sour but her face grows more pale every moment. "It worked."
"Debatable." Although Donghyuck won't tell her how much of a bitch it was to fix, it certainly didn't work in the way she intended. She doesn't have her idol hanging off her elbow, after all. Surely she can't be that surprised.
She stands rooted to the spot even as Donghyuck approaches her. Is it her fear? Donghyuck puts a finger under her chin and she falters, lips trembling. She shakes.
"I don't like being the bad guy," Donghyuck tells her coyly. It's a lie. "Don't make me angry again." He breathes magic down her throat. "You won't win."
It's an understatement — she's lucky he doesn't destroy her where she stands, wipe her from the memories of the people who love her. Curse work is brutal and deserves to be punished. Donghyuck won't say he doesn't have a personal stake in her punishment.
Perhaps that's why he forces himself to be lenient.
"Goodnight." He pulls away, walking past her and out of the lot. "Don't disappoint me again."
She's still standing in the parking lot long after Donghyuck turns the corner.
Jeno is waiting for him on the corner, sitting just under the streetlight. His eyes are unnaturally yellow in the dark. Donghyuck lowers his cowl and shakes out his hair. It's sticking to his forehead and sweat drops down his back. The cape really isn't meant for this season, but he's long lost his summer robes. "I'm hungry," he tells his cat. "Let's get a burger."
"What did you do to her?" Yuta asks later.
"Not a lot." Nothing malicious. "Just enough to shut her up."
Yuta howls and Donghyuck rests easy.
Awards season comes and goes — at least Donghyuck assumes it does. It's gotten to the point where Donghyuck has limited how much time he can spend on his ancient computer. There's no real point in keeping up with things. He never needed to before and he certainly doesn't need to now. His productivity the last few months has dipped dramatically. As the next month rolls around Donghyuck has promised himself he'll keep busy.
"I could use more poultice," Kun offers when Donghyuck begs for something to do.
"Uh…" Taeyong clicks his tongue thoughtfully when Donghyuck calls in a favor. "I'll let you help if you don't burn anything this time."
"Stop calling me," Sicheng says when Donghyuck calls him to ask for more clients.
"You need to take a nap," Renjun tells him when he sees the state Donghyuck is in. Chenle weaves in and out of Renjun's legs before nestling himself among the clean laundry that's piled up on Donghyuck's couch. "Like, an eight hour nap that you may or may not wake up from."
Truthfully, Donghyuck's brain is going in so many directions he doesn't remember the last time he got a full night's sleep. "I know." It doesn't stop Donghyuck from brewing his potions or taking up extra jobs or combing through his library.
It also doesn't stop Renjun from giving him Nyquil and dragging him to bed. "Come on, you wretched insomniac." It's almost sweet, the way he tucks Donghyuck in and turns out the lights. Donghyuck can't really appreciate it because he's almost completely asleep. Jeno curls up on Donghyuck's pillow. "Sweet dreams."
After that, Renjun keeps a closer eye on things and Donghyuck takes great pains to return to a regular schedule. He's always been prone to staying up late and sleeping in, but at least he was consistent and had an excuse to not do anything in the morning. Truly he feels like he's in a fog of work and exhaustion, and that's never a healthy place to be when working with something as volatile as magic.
"Maybe you should take a break?" Renjun offers a couple of days after his necessary intervention.
Donghyuck levels him a look.
"No, you're right." Renjun huffs. Donghyuck can't handle boredom. "Just take care of yourself."
"I will." And he does.
The reason he threw himself into work is because he was thinking too much. He only has to wait until his brain stops buzzing. Eventually it will. It does.
It takes a little longer than expected and somehow it doesn't last.
Donghyuck doesn't hide his phone in his nightstand any more. There are a few people who contact him this way, and in the interest of maintaining business turning it off quickly becomes a non-option. So he sets it on his bedside table and answers it the few times it rings.
He's still awake at four in the morning when he hears the shrill bell.
It's jarring. There's a calm quiet about the late night (or early morning, whichever side of the sun it's on) and the sound isn't something Donghyuck usually pairs with this hour. He's at his work desk, glasses perched on his nose, carefully weaving strands of magic together. He makes a small sound in surprise, clamping the magic between his thumb and forefinger and checking the time.
Donghyuck rubs his eyes. It's late. He hadn't realized that time passed so quickly. When he stops what he's doing his mind is tired. He yawns as he answers the phone. "Hello?"
There's a noise on the other end, an intake of breath, and then a short pause.
"Hello?" Donghyuck asks again.
"Sorry," they say. "I didn't think you'd answer."
"Oh." Donghyuck slumps in his chair. The voice is familiar. Donghyuck smirks despite himself. "Hi, Johnny."
It's an awkward start. Donghyuck hadn't checked the caller ID and Johnny hadn't thought he'd get a response, so now they're both confused about where they're starting and where they should go.
"Did I wake you up?"
"No." Donghyuck sets the phone on speaker and goes back to his work, pinching thin strands between his fingers and trying to hold them together. "You know me. I'm nocturnal."
"I know." Johnny laughs. "I'm...ah. I'm out of the country right now."
"Is everything okay?" Donghyuck asks slowly. He remembers Johnny saying he'd call if something was wrong. He doesn't sound panicked on the other end but it's hard to say for sure. "Did you need something?"
"Uh…" There's a warbled noise on the other end. Somewhere in the world the sun is shining and that's probably where Johnny is right now, surrounded by people and staff and fans and who knows what else. "No. Not really."
Despite that it's quiet on both sides.
"Then why did you call?"
"I was just...thinking."
Donghyuck clenches his jaw. "About me?" he asks casually.
There is a little warning in his voice and Johnny hears it for what it is. "Yeah." He groans. There's rustling. Donghyuck can imagine Johnny running his hand down his face the way he does when he's tired and forgets he's wearing makeup. "I'm sorry. I know it's been months."
"It has been months." The days at the beginning were counted, but Donghyuck thinks the both of them are busy enough that time can fly the way they want it to.
In some ways Donghyuck isn't surprised. Magic inherently comes with a lack of closure but humans aren't always comfortable with question marks. There were a lot of loose ends between them. Donghyuck guesses he can't really begrudge Johnny for lingering on them, especially when he knows there's more between them than said.
Johnny hums quietly, a place holder. "I just...wanted to talk to you, I guess."
Donghyuck bites his lip and rocks back in his chair, two legs coming up off the floor. "Is that so?" There's a balance between prodding and encouraging and Donghyuck isn't sure which side he wants to be on. "Is it everything you dreamed of?"
"You're not nearly as charming over the phone."
"Charming! Hah!" Donghyuck laughs once, hard and loud. In the distance Jeno wines at him for being noisy. "Because I'm a witch! Get it?"
"How much sleep have you gotten lately?"
"Clearly not enough." Donghyuck rubs his eyes again. He sighs, rolling his lips between his teeth while he searches for appropriate words. "Do you have any...the curse? Is it gone for good?"
Johnny laughs. "Are you doubting yourself?"
"Never." Donghyuck sniffs. "It's just nice to be affirmed every once in a while."
"You did a good job," Johnny tells him obediently. "Worth every penny...although I do have a potential job for you, now that I think about it."
Donghyuck blinks, settles his chair back down on the ground so he's closer to the speaker. "Really? Did something happen?"
"It was the weirdest thing," Johnny said idly. "One day one of my staff members showed up and just couldn't speak a word."
"Oh." Donghyuck huffs a laugh into his shoulder. "Um...that is interesting."
Johnny makes a soft sound in agreement. "And you know what's weirder?"
Donghyuck curls a thread of magic around his finger, trying not to grin. "I'm riveted."
"She could talk to everyone except for me."
"So weird." The magic runs comfortably over his hands, and Donghyuck watches the seconds tick on the screen for a moment, trying not to feel too proud of himself. "Maybe she's just shy. You are an impressive figure, after all."
"Maybe." There's a smile in Johnny's voice.
The clock approaches the next hour and Donghyuck should really let his brain rest. "I should get my beauty rest," he says quietly. "But I'm glad you're doing alright." It's genuine. There's a strange weight lifted off his chest to hear that Johnny has adjusted to Life After Magic without stumbling too hard. "Any parting words?"
Johnny pauses, long and heavy. "We should meet each other."
Donghyuck swallows. "With good feelings?" he jokes but it's hollow.
"Oh?" Donghyuck is surprised. "Then for what?"
Johnny takes a deep breath. "I keep thinking about you — it's driving me crazy."
Donghyuck snickers. "I get that all the time."
There's a fondness between them that Donghyuck wants to stamp out under his heel, true love be damned. It's a bit cruel that they would meet under circumstances that complicate things so much. "I would say for most people thinking about the witch you were cursed to fall in love with is reason to avoid them."
Johnny clicks his tongue. "I just don't think that's it."
"Well…" Donghyuck licks his lips, buying time. "You wouldn't, would you?" Perception is crazy.
"I just want to meet," Johnny says, firm. "Let me figure it out for myself."
It would be smarter to snuff the candle before it burns to the wick, but Donghyuck has always done what he wants. He swallows down doubt and smoothes the magic beneath his fingers. "Okay," he says, at five in the morning with a clear mind. "Tell me when."
While working with Johnny his time had been so limited Donghyuck could hold the available minutes in one hand. Donghyuck expected to have to wait at least a couple of weeks before they were able to set aside time, especially considering that Johnny was out of the country.
He's surprised when he wakes up in the middle of the afternoon with a potential time in only five days.
Sorry, Johnny texts. I'm in Brazil for the next three days. Is this okay?
If anything, it's too soon. Donghyuck chews his lip within an inch of its life and accepts. Why not? It's fate, after all.
Fate doesn't taste quite as bitter these days, but he's not sure it's any more trustworthy.
Johnny wants to meet up at the same café they visited the first time, and Donghyuck wears clothes that aren't stained or dirty. He walks into the building hesitantly like he's seeing it for the first time and tries not to beat himself up over the nerves. He's not the type to be hesitant, but there are a lot of things happening that he doesn't have any precedent for.
"It's just a date," Renjun told him the night before, laying out an appropriate outfit on Donghyuck's desk. "A potentially magically connected date, but it's just a date. Think of it like a Tinder hookup."
"We're going to get coffee and then fuck in the bathroom?"
"Is that how your hookups go?" Renjun rolled his eyes. "Just remember — you can always climb out the bathroom window if you have to."
A witch would never climb out of the window; it's far too pedestrian. Still, it was nice to joke about it. It's a little harder to be jovial in the daylight.
He sees the back of Johnny's head not because he recognizes it but because he sees the other patrons staring at him. Donghyuck waves his hand and they go back to minding their own business, stepping towards the table on steady legs.
Donghyuck wouldn't be caught dead being shaky because of a boy. Not in public, at least, and certainly not so soon. As it is, there's almost no reason to be shaken. Beyond the very confused true love situation the only connection between them is contrived and bound together by perception and rotten magic.
Perhaps it's naive to think as much, because when he slides down into the seat and sees Johnny for the first time in several months he's struck by something fluttery and uncomfortable. "Hello there."
There's already a drink in front of him, Donghyuck's order from the last time, and Johnny looks up from his phone with open eyes. He grins when he sees Donghyuck has arrived. It's easy and unhindered.
This is a new Johnny, several months removed from his heart being bullied. He's a lot brighter.
"I can't wait for the new articles," Johnny says with a grin. "John Suh and His Mysterious Ex."
"They have no proof," Donghyuck replies simply, plucking his drink up from the table and taking a long sip. "Although I'm certainly pretty enough to date an idol."
"Mm." Johnny nods. The smile fades into something much smaller. "I can't believe you cursed my makeup artist."
Donghyuck licks coffee off his lips and pins Johnny with a defensive look. "She cursed you first." He huffs. "I just wanted to show her what it looks like when it's done well."
"Isn't that playing dirty?"
"It'll fade." Donghyuck shrugs. "It's not parasitic like hers was." It will fade with Donghyuck's ill intention. He doesn't like dark magic that lingers. Curses are more trouble than they're worth. "Just to scare her, you know. It's for her own good."
Johnny raises an eyebrow. "You don't have to explain yourself to me."
"I know." Petulant. Donghyuck puts his chin in his hand. "It doesn't matter to me if you think I'm petty or not."
"Oh, I know you're petty." Johnny rolls his eyes. "Don't act like that's surprising. Truly on brand."
"I do have several terrible traits," Donghyuck admits. There's spilled sugar on the table top and he picks it up with his fingertip, rolling grains beneath his thumb. "We don't all get image training, you know."
It's as awkward as it should be, but Donghyuck refuses to be more than he is. There are jitters under his skin that he blames on the grainy music coming out from the speakers.
"Image training only goes so far, you know?" Johnny scratches the back of his head, squinting at Donghyuck across the table. "It doesn't teach you how to be charismatic or good at improv or how to hold a conversation. Or…" He grimaces. "I guess it teaches you how to fake it. I don't know. It always falls apart."
Donghyuck snorts. "Are you trying to tell me you're not charismatic or able to hold a conversation?" He doesn't buy it, if that's what Johnny is trying to sell.
"Of course not; those are some of my best points." Johnny winks and it's cheesy and terrible and Donghyuck laughs. "I'm just saying they were there from the beginning. They just needed to be developed."
"Uh huh." Dubiously, Donghyuck sucks on his teeth and gives Johnny a critical once over. "If you're trying to spin a metaphor, save it for the next album. I don't need it."
In the din of the café, even with everyone watching, Johnny does not hold back. He leans on his elbows across the table, looking up at Donghyuck with wide eyes. Donghyuck gets the full force of a pleading gaze, and it's put-on enough that Donghyuck can't help but roll his eyes. "Aren't you curious?"
Donghyuck puts a finger on Johnny's nose and pushes him lightly back to his own side of the table. "That wouldn't be very on-brand of me, would it?"
"Don't say that." Johnny settles his cheek into his hand and smiles. "I think you're a very curious person."
Donghyuck squints at him. "What did I tell you about the flirting?"
"That it's not as funny when I do it," Johnny replies dutifully. "But didn't you agree to meet so I could flirt with you?"
In some ways, yes, Donghyuck did. "I just want you to know what's real and what's not." At the beginning when Donghyuck was flirting, it wasn't real; neither was whatever Johnny thought he was feeling. Now Donghyuck is pulling back and Johnny has risen to fill the vacuum.
For what it's worth, he seems a lot more at ease now than he ever did before. His smile is easier and his words are easier. He grins. "I know flirting is fun."
Donghyuck scoffs. "This is what gets you in trouble with the girls."
"Yeah." Johnny bites his lip to hold back a laugh. Despite Donghyuck's warnings — however mild — he doesn't look particularly ashamed. "So much trouble one of them can't even talk to me any more."
"Shut up," Donghyuck mumbles into the lip of his coffee cup. "I told you it was for her own good."
Johnny does pause, then, like maybe he's taking a step over a ledge. Donghyuck unconsciously tenses himself for the impact, but what Johnny ends up saying is a lot softer of an attack than expected. "It wasn't because maybe you cared about me even a little bit?"
Donghyuck takes a deep breath and counts the tiles on the ceiling. He's reluctant. He can't help it. But he can't disagree with Johnny either. He crosses his arms over his chest and taps a rhythm on his elbow with twitchy fingers. "You're not going to give this up, are you?"
It's interesting, having a conversation with an idol. Most of the time Donghyuck is able to forget about — he's seen his fair share of outlandish beauty, the most perfect dialects, the most ostentatious displays of wealth or fame or privilege — but in this moment Johnny knows exactly how to pull Donghyuck's focus to him again and again.
"I'm not really sure I should," Johnny says with weight.
Something pulls in Donghyuck's chest and he grips it with an iron fist. I'm not sure you're real, he says, even though he's read the books and done his research. "You realize the problem here, right?"
Johnny's own drink is long empty, and he holds the cooling mug in his hands just to give himself something to do. It is a blatant display of nerves. "Yeah. But didn't you say I should call you if I still thought I was in love with you after a few weeks?" It's incredible that Johnny doesn't see the issue there, but the tension in his mouth says maybe he does.
"I didn't say that exactly." Donghyuck nearly swallows his tongue. "I believe what I said is that I'll take your money."
"I've been wondering about that — do you even use money?"
Donghyuck sniffs. "How else did I support your diet-breaking? Do you think I pulled up to the drive through and offered the soul of a virgin for a McGriddle?"
Johnny's eyebrows raise into his hairline. "Do you keep that kind of thing on you all the time?"
"God, no." Donghyuck blanches at the thought. "If I tried to keep a soul in the car without a body it would explode at the first pothole."
"You're kidding." Johnny's jaw is dropped and Donghyuck feels slightly proud of himself.
"No. You think souls are easy?"
The incredulity on Johnny's face is worth it for the entire ten seconds he's struck speechless before he shakes the fog away. "You're trying to distract me."
Donghyuck takes a long drink but doesn't deny anything. "To be fair, you started it."
If Donghyuck can keep the conversation veering slightly left from any kind of necessary topics for
as long as possible, maybe he can finish his coffee before leaving the building. It's a fool's game because there's intent and purpose in the set of Johnny's shoulders, but fuck if Donghyuck isn't going to try.
"You can admit it, you know." Johnny wipes his mouth with a small napkin and takes off some of the tint on his mouth before crumbling the paper up in his fingers.
"Admit what?" Donghyuck knows he's being childish. He taps the side of his cup with his fingernails.
Johnny furrows his brow, thinking of the words. "That we are meeting with good feelings."
Without thinking, Donghyuck laughs. It's so silly. "I mean, we are meeting." Casually, very purposefully not looking at the beautiful man across the table who is digging his heels into the sand to get his right answer. "This isn't about my feelings, anyway."
"Of course, it's about your feelings." Johnny looks appalled. His voice is loud enough to draw notice of the patrons, and Donghyuck waves their attention away yet again with a roll of his eyes. "If you told me to leave you alone, I would in a heartbeat. You know that, don't you?"
"Yeah, yeah." Donghyuck puts his hands out to placate Johnny. "Calm down. I know." The unspoken truth is that Donghyuck hasn't said anything of the sort. "But you're the one whose brain was put through the wringer. We're meeting for you. We've always been meeting for you. You had a problem and I solved it for you."
"Okay?" Johnny huffs. "The problem was solved a few months ago and we're meeting again. Doesn't that mean it's a little more even?"
"You tell me." Donghyucks sets his mug down carefully on the table and chews on his tongue. Maybe it's time he gets it over with. "We met. Did you find what you were looking for?"
Johnny squints at Donghyuck, lifting his chin and looking at the witch down his nose. "Not sure." He's still tense from the implication Donghyuck doesn't have a say in this, but the longer they sit here the more it seems Donghyuck has already made his choice.
Donghyuck swallows thickly. "That's a little underwhelming," he admits, clinking his nails against ceramic. "You're usually very black and white."
"Yeah." Johnny still has his cheek in his hand, now looking Donghyuck sideways. "There's something...I'm just not sure if it's old or new."
That's exactly what Donghyuck expected, even if he was hoping for something a little more positive. "I think that's pretty normal, considering. You don't exactly have anything to compare it to."
They sit together in silence, evaluating each other across the table. Donghyuck can't jump that hurdle. This is what he meant when he said his own feelings don't matter.
Johnny takes a deep breath. "Can I kiss you?"
The gears in Donghyuck's brain grind to a stop. He's very thankful he has the coffee mug firmly on the table, or else he thinks he'd stain yet another shirt beyond repair. "Excuse me?" Flat.
"I thought I'd ask this time," Johnny explains, sitting and folding his arms neatly on the table like a child asking for dessert. He doesn't seem put off by Donghyuck's rapid blinking, or even particularly surprised. There's that tension again, the jitters, but it's hard to find under the set of his shoulders. "I'd like to compare."
Donghyuck gapes at him. "Compare that?" He shakes his head. "You're out of your damn mind."
The first time they were here, Johnny was nervous about the people around them despite Donghyuck's promises they weren't being watched. Now, he's offering to kiss someone he barely knows in front of god and the barista and everybody. He seems undaunted, but there's no frills either. He isn't smirking, or teasing, or amused. He's just sitting across the table with his shoulders straight and asking a question.
"I just want to see if it's different," he says plainly. "You don't have to. I hate that...I know you said you were okay with it but I hate that it happened that way, the first time."
Donghyuck likes kisses, and getting kissed by a beautiful man isn't exactly a hardship, and Johnny is right about one very important thing — Donghyuck is curious.
There is the strange concept of true love hanging over Donghyuck's head, and he has no choice but to believe in it because it's power is clearly documented no matter how unquantifiable the conditions might seem. Donghyuck spent those first few days following curing Johnny asking himself a lot of questions, but things are hard when they're close and confusing.
He's a little more distant now, even though Johnny is sitting right across from him. Does he find Johnny physically attractive? Yes. Is Johnny the type of person Donghyuck would normally like to date? Yes. Did he enjoy kissing Johnny, post-kiss freakout aside? Yes. Did he think these things before he felt the curse go cold in Johnny's chest?
"You can kiss me, if you want," Donghyuck decides. "But don't blame me if your head is confused afterwards."
There are no bells or whistles in the way Johnny slides out of the booth, although the movement does draw the attention of the rest of the room. Donghyuck frowns and turns their heads away with a wish, but he barely has a moment before Johnny puts his knee on the vinyl of the booth seat and slides up close.
His hand is under Donghyuck's chin, not unlike the first time. It's Donghyuck who pulls him closer, smoothing his palm on the back of Johnny's neck and pressing their lips together.
The first kiss was simple and fast, but there's something searching about this one. It's not hot or heavy. Johnny is a good kisser, tilting his head and slotting their bodies together a respectable amount, closer and closer as he puts one hand on Donghyuck's thigh and the other around his shoulders. Donghyuck is also respectable and doesn't arch forward, just opens his mouth and lets Johnny search a little deeper.
Above them the hanging light flickers. Behind the bar the grinder whirs for a heartbeat untended. For a second heartbeat, the noise in the café dulls to nothing and all Donghyuck can hear is magic. It's dizzying. Magic flares, buzzing, and Donghyuck struggles to keep it under his thumb.
He's going to have to get better at that.
Johnny is even prettier up close. When he pulls away his eyes are still closed. Donghyuck could count his eyelashes, if he felt like staring.
Sound returns to the room. Donghyuck's own heart is whirring a hair faster. His breath is a little shaking. He pulls his hand off of Johnny's neck and folds it neatly in his lap. The soft touch of pulling away is what prompts Johnny to open his eyes. "And?" Donghyuck asks. "Are you in love with me?"
It takes a moment. Johnny smacks his lips together and settles down in his seat, wondering. "I don't think so." Despite his words he leans in a little closer. "Maybe I should try again?"
"You fuck." Donghyuck laughs. "Don't you think you'd know?"
"I don't love you," Johnny says, and an odd part of Donghyuck is relieved to have side-stepped that hardest pitfall. But Johnny doesn't pull away, still leaning ever so slightly into Donghyuck's space. "But I'm pretty sure I like you."
Johnny smells like coffee and sunscreen. Donghyuck smells it in full force when he breathes in, mouth pursed and hands still folded in his lap. "Is that so?"
Hesitation. "Don't you like me?"
Donghyuck hums. "I'm not sure." Leans forward. "Maybe I should try again?"
In the café no one notices the two boys kissing in the far corner of the room. No one recognizes John Suh. Eyes flit over Donghyuck like he isn't there. In that moment, surrounded by a million other things, Donghyuck smiles against Johnny's mouth and wonders — Do I like him?
"Is this really you taking it slow?"
"Renjun, my bosom friend—"
Renjun glares at Donghyuck sharply over a cauldron of bubbling gold. "Don't call me that."
"Oh, that's right." Donghyuck pops a grape into his mouth. "I forgot we weren't friends."
It's cold outside, rain beating against the window panes of Renjun's city apartment. Chenle and Jeno are curled up together by the space heater and Jaemin is playing some video game with his headphones. Donghyuck doesn't think he's ever seen the guy so still for so long, but he also knows Renjun has been severely limiting Jaemin's caffeine intake.
"I just think that giving him drawer space after like two months is moving fairly quickly." There's sweat dripping down Renjun's neck from the potion he's brewing, but it doesn't stop the expression on his face from being any less stern.
"We said we were going slow, not standing in place." Donghyuck sniffs. "Like by inches rather than…whatever is smaller than inches."
"Centimeters?" Jaemin offers.
"Thank you." Donghyuck peers into Renjun's cauldron. The magic is fizzy. "You and Jaemin have been practically married for almost a year and you won't even call him your boyfriend."
Renjun swats Donghyuck's hand with a spoon. "He can hear you." It's hard to tell whether his face gets any redder, already flushed from the heat of spells.
"So?" Donghyuck rubs his wrist but can't bring himself to be offended. "It's not like he doesn't know you're ridiculous. For someone so obsessed with your label maker you sure don't like putting them on things."
Jaemin laughs. If he were closer, Donghyuck thinks Renjun would throw the spoon at Jaemin's head.
"Shut up." Renjun scowls, full of ire, but there's defeat in the sway he stirs the pot. "Let's talk about how you and Johnny are a pair of romantic lesbians, shall we?"
"It's not like we're moving in together," Donghyuck points out. "Besides, if he has a drawer at my house that means I can steal his expensive shirts whenever I want."
Renjun levels Donghyuck with his spoon. "If you get mustard on Givenchy I'll actually murder you."
Donghyuck has already messed up plenty of Johnny's shirts, but he keeps that to himself.
"I swear, it's like I hardly know you anymore." Renjun clicks his tongue. "Commitment? Donghyuck? Never thought I'd see the day."
It's not that Donghyuck avoided commitment before, but that commitment never seemed worth the effort. Johnny is busy and Donghyuck is busy and there's no pressure between them to meet, but every time their schedules align Donghyuck thinks it's going to be a good day. He shrugs instead of being sappy in front of Renjun, pulling the sleeves of his sweatshirt down over his palms. This one is his own, but Johnny bought it for him and ordered too large. It's comfy and already well-worn. "It's nice," he says instead. "And I don't have to explain the whole witch thing to him, which is also nice."
Renjun looks at Donghyuck like he can see right through him. Maybe he can — Renjun's always been good at seeing more than the surface and he's known Donghyuck far too long. "Soon you'll be introducing him to the coven."
Donghyuck snickers. "He's already met Sicheng."
"Sicheng doesn't count." Renjun tsks. "Sicheng is like our weird uncle who only shows up if there's free food."
"He did send me condoms, though."
Renjun's face tells its own story. "That's gross." He taps the excess magic off his spoon into the cauldron and sets it aside, focusing on the motions. "I still think he should meet the family eventually."
Donghyuck raises an eyebrow. "Is that a hint?"
Renjun sucks on his lower lip. "Maybe."
In all their years together Donghyuck doesn't think he's ever made even a friend that Renjun doesn't know. "Soon," he says, because he thinks it might matter. "We're taking it slow after all."
Johnny texts him not long later — Are you free? — and Donghyuck waves goodbye to make his way home.
yes, he types back. His reply speed is getting faster and faster, the more his thumbs figure out how to text. It's harder than usual, juggling the phone while he tries pulling on his jacket. do u wanna do something?
By the time Donghyuck turns onto the street where his shop usually hangs, Johnny is already waiting by the porch. He's wearing a long coat and holding a clear umbrella over his head. His hair is stuck to the sides of his face like perhaps the storm surprised him. He's glowing anyway, even before he sees Donghyuck round the corner. "Hello."
Donghyuck sprints forward the last couple of steps until he's under the cover of Johnny's umbrella. His hands are jammed in his pockets and he rocks back and forth on his heels. "Hello." He grins. "Were you waiting very long?"
"Not at all." Johnny holds out his elbow. "In fact, it was perfect timing."
There's no point in the umbrella, really. Donghyuck has enough tricks up his sleeves that even the rain can't touch him, but there's something nice about huddling close. He slips his hand around Johnny's arm, leaning up to press a kiss to Johnny's cheek, and they fall into an easy rhythm. "Where are we going?" Donghyuck asks. His sneakers splatter in the puddles, but Johnny is warm beside him.
"I don't know," Johnny says in the gray of the early evening. "Let's find something to do."
"Okay." Donghyuck grins and takes another slow step. "Lead the way."