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Goodbye to All That We Knew

Chapter Text

 

 

The grass crunched and snapped beneath his tiny feet, sharp and brittle and yellow. It hurt, grass blades poking at his bare soles as he wandered along the riverbank, plucking wilting flowers that left brown stains on his hands.

 

He still clutched them close, as Mother talked so often about the times where flowers had colour and were not crunchy and mushy under your fingertips.

 

The forest was so quiet that he could hear his little heart beating away in his chest, the river’s muddy water swirling not far from his feet.

 

Yixing wandered a little closer.

 

Nurse had told him never to drink the water from any stream or river in the forest.

 

She said that once they had been clear; beautiful, trickling streams that tinkled over rocks or rushing waters that foamed against the riverbanks. She said she could have sat on the banks and watched them for hours, listening to the waters crashing against the bank and watching the deer and rabbits come to drink.

 

But now, they were full of mud and silt, and the water was no longer a beautiful clear blue. No animals came to drink anymore.

 

They had a single well back home that drew water from the deepest depths of the earth, which was the only water safe to drink - the water that sprung from underwater springs so deep that if you fell in, you would never come back out again.

 

Something cracked in the silence and Yixing froze, his little fist squeezing tight around the bouquet of dead flowers.

 

He ducked behind a large rock, lifting his head to watch as a deer, really just a fawn, growing out of childhood, stumble over to the stream.

 

Its spindly legs tripped over the uneven rocks and it went sprawling.

 

Even from a distance, Yixing could see that something was very wrong with the poor creature.

 

Its sides heaved, its coat was stained with sweat and its tongue lolled out of its mouth as it collapsed on the riverbank, tilting its head just enough to reach the filthy water.

 

The effect was instantaneous.

 

The fawn’s back bowed into an unnatural arch, its muscles beginning to convulse.

 

Blood gushed from its nose and mouth as it shrieked, the sound so ugly and piercing that Yixing dropped his flowers to clasp his hands over his ears.

 

He fought down the urge to scream as the fawn’s eyes began gushing blood, rivers of it streaming down its muzzle to mingle with the water, its back arching so stiffly that it looked as if it would break.

 

“Your Highness!” A pair of hands clapped around his eyes before he had time to react, but it was not enough to block out the awful crack that echoed through the air even through his hands over his ears.

 

Yixing began to cry even as his nurse scooped him up, one hand still pressed over his eyes.

 

“You should not have come here, little one. The forest is not for someone like you,” she murmured as she carried him out to the hunting party that his father must have sent out to search for him.

 

“How did he even get out of the castle? You were supposed to be watching him.” His father’s voice was sharp and angry. Yixing whimpered, clinging to his shirt as he was handed over.

 

Wrapped up in his father’s warm, strong arms, the death of the fawn did not feel so real. But that did not erase the horror that he had seen, the gruesome, horrific way that the fawn had died.

 

He clutched at his father’s tunic, burying his face into his strong chest as they returned to the castle, the sound of the horses’ hooves rhythmic in his ears.

 

Even at the tender age of seven, Yixing knew that what happened with the fawn was not right. There was something very wrong with his world.

 

He began to see it everywhere.

 

From the way his father wore a single glove over his left hand that he never removed for as long as he remembered, the servants’ reluctance to touch him after he returned from the forest and how the nobles were always, always warned to never enter the forest alone.

 

Only his nurse treated him the same she always did, except now she whispered words that he did not understand while she bathed him.

 

He chanced upon his father one day, sleeping in his study with no glove on.

 

“Yixing!”

 

His mother opened the door to the study and screamed before he could grab his father’s bare hand, startling him awake.

 

Yixing could feel the terror rolling off him in waves when he pushed him away before yanking on his glove.

 

His mother scooped him up, pressing her cheek against his and her heart pounded so loudly that Yixing could feel it, his fingers gripping at her blouse.

 

“What’s wrong, Mama?” he asked sweetly, not understanding her terror.

 

His father wrapped his arms around the both of them, his glove back on, Yixing squished between the both of them.

 

“Nothing, love. Just- never try that again.”

 

The fear in his father’s voice confused him but Yixing did not question it, merely burying his face into his mother’s neck, giggling when his hair was ruffled.

 

Yixing’s childhood was relatively carefree. He was permitted to wander about as much as he liked, so long he kept within the castle’s borders.

 

After that encounter with the dead fawn in the forest, the young prince had developed an irrational fear of blood, a fact that he discovered the hard way.

 

He had been playing in the gardens, chasing the fat pigeons with the funny red eyes. They squawked whenever he came close and it was great fun to watch them fly away.

 

The ground was uneven, for he had found an unfinished pavilion littered with limestone rocks and after the pigeons had all flown away, he went over to inspect the white rocks with great interest.

 

They left white streaks all over his hands and crumbled away into dust that made him sneeze.

 

So fascinated by the limestone he was that he did not notice the steps leading down the pavilion, nor did he realise how sharp they were until he took a step into midair and his heart flew into his throat.

 

He tumbled down the few steps, landing so hard that the breath was knocked out of his little lungs.

 

Yixing sat on the dirty ground, whimpering softly before wiping his white hands on his breeches.

 

He did not feel the sting until he looked down to realise that the fabric of his breeches had be torn and there was red seeping through them.

 

Yixing stared at the liquid, his world seemingly frozen around him.

 

His mind rewound back to the moment he saw blood pour from a dead fawn’s eyes, and he did not know he was screaming until he was picked up and his mother was bouncing and shushing him.

 

He would not look at the wound when they brought him to his father, the metallic smell turning his stomach.

 

But his father had no such qualms as he wiped the tears from his face.

 

“I’m going to show you something, Xing xing, if you’ll stop crying.”

 

Yixing hiccupped, squeezing a handful of his mother’s blouse in his hand before nodding.

 

“Good boy,” his father praised and Yixing gave him a watery smile, watching as he laid a large hand onto his knee, obscuring the red slash.

 

The torn skin closed, crimson blood disappearing altogether, right before Yixing’s eyes.

 

Even as he touched the once again flawless skin, his father winced, as if he was the one who felt the sting of the wound.

 

“How did you do that, Papa?”

 

His father merely smiled and kissed the top of his head.

 

“You will know in time, my son.”

 

Once he was of age, Yixing attended his lessons religiously and rather enjoyed them, for that was when he had tutors who came from outside of the castle property.

 

They brought books with them, scribbled over with languages that he learnt to read and books full of history.

 

Yixing was full of questions, once he learnt to ask them, about his family, about the kingdom he would inherit and everything beyond.

 

“You ask too many questions, Xing Xing. How is Huang Lei Laoshi supposed to answer them all?” his father teased one study session.

 

He often sat in on his lessons and Yixing loved it when he did, peppering both his teacher and father with questions.

 

Yixing sat back, pouting at his books. He sketched out a character, a rune as Laoshi had called it, onto his parchment and his teacher leaned over to examine in, marvelling at the clean strokes.

 

“He’s supposed to know everything, isn’t he?” he asked, drawing another rune and both men laughed.

 

“The young prince is inquisitive. A good quality to have for a future ruler,” Huang Lei praised, his eyes twinkling with good humour.“But no, Your Highness. I do not claim to know everything, though I do know a great deal. Now if we could continue. Tell me about the runes on the tree.”

 

Yixing turned the page and gawked at the full coloured illustration, a tree lined with gold and silver foil, with runes etched into its trunk.

 

He traced the one shaped like a water droplet thoughtfully.

 

“They represent the seven kingdoms that Elyxion used to have. This one is for the one by the sea, Bada. And this,” he pointed to the one in the shape of a horse with a pointed horn, “is ours.”

 

“Which is the one for shadow then?”

 

Yixing pored over the page, touching one that was shaped like a triangle with a swirl in the middle.

 

“This is one,” he said and Huang Lei raised his eyebrows.

 

“Which is the other then?”

 

The runes seemed to jump out at him as he surveyed them, glowing silver in the light.

 

“This,” his fingers trailed over one almost hidden at the base of the tree, made up of little circles and curved lines.

 

Huang Lei made an impressed sound and Yixing beamed when his father nodded approvingly.

 

“The kingdom doesn’t exist now, does it, Laoshi? They say that it died, slowly consumed by the prince’s shadows.”

 

Yixing did not notice his father’s smile slowly melting away, eager in his thirst to pursue more knowledge. The curses had always fascinated him, ever since he was old enough to learn about them in his history books.

 

He was still not allowed to know much, his parents deeming him a little young at twelve years but Yixing pushed the boundaries as far as he could, eager to learn more.

 

The history of his own kingdom was still a forbidden topic to him, the books locked up tightly in the archives so Yixing turned to the other kingdoms for his reading leisure, devouring all the books he could get his hands on.

 

Huang Lei slid a careful look in his father’s direction and Yixing straightened.

 

“No, it doesn’t. The last prince’s shadows grew out of control because he was not taught to control and temper them. He was the most powerful and the last of the Keurimjeo line. With that, my prince, can you name the four kingdoms that remain out of the original seven?”

 

Yixing chewed his lips, effectively distracted by the new question.

 

“Bada, Chilyo, Olda and Seong.”

 

“Very well. How did the three die out?”

 

“Keurimjeo died when the prince went mad and his shadows swallowed the kingdom. Modak, also known as the Fire kingdom went extinct after the last princess caused the volcano, Peo to erupt and bury everything in its path,” Yixing tapped his book, eyes squinting as he studied the last kingdom’s insignia, the one in the shape of a bull.

 

“Himdeul was levelled by an earthquake, another accident only seven years ago, when the king lost control.”

 

“Very good, Your Highness. Do you have any questions for this lesson?”

 

Yixing turned the pages of his book, frowning.

 

“Are there any people who survived the accidents, Laoshi? Any of the people who lived in those kingdoms?”

 

He watched curiously as Huang Lei glanced at his father once more, cautious before speaking at his nod.

 

“There are rumours that spread even now, that the royal families may have survived. Broken apart and lost, but alive. The powers that the tree blessed them with are passed on, through their children.”

 

“And that’s all you need to know for now, Yixing.” His father’s tone was stern, almost scolding. He rose from his seat, gathering the papers that he had been reading.

 

“No more questions about these. You are still too young, your innocence too valuable to listen to the events that plagued these kingdoms for now.”

 

But Papa-.” Yixing rose too, gathering his books as Huang Lei made his escape with a hasty good bye.

 

“When you are older, I will tell you myself. But for now, enjoy what is left of your childhood while you can.”

 

Yixing did his best, putting the curses and the kingdoms out of his mind as he was bid but always, they were there, niggling questions left unanswered.

 

The year he turned thirteen was the year his parents permitted him to leave the castle grounds to visit the towns and villages.

 

He was always chaperoned and he was not allowed to touch anyone.

 

It was a strange condition, Yixing thought.

 

He assumed that it had something to do with his father’s glove but asked no questions.

 

In the year between twelve and thirteen, he had learnt to hold his tongue, to keep certain questions hidden away to keep from distressing his parents.

 

It was rather lonely, as he watched the children play on the streets, nibbling on a bread roll fresh from the bakery.

 

“Hello!”

 

Yixing jumped, startled. It was rare for any of the children to greet him or even acknowledge his presence.

 

He turned to see a boy with dark chestnut hair grinning happily at him, an apple in hand.

 

“Would you like to play?” the boy asked, tossing the apple at Yixing so fast that he barely caught it in his surprise.

 

“I- I’m not allowed to touch anyone,” he muttered and the boy shrugged.

 

“That’s okay! We can play catch with my apple!”

 

He ran a little ways away, his teeth flashing into a brilliant smile.

 

“Throw it to me!”

 

Yixing tossed the apple into the air and the boy laughed, running to catch it.

 

With a giggle, Yixing chased after him, passing the apple back and forth between the both of them until they were at the other end of the street, panting and breathing hard.

 

He doubled over, catching his breath as the boy ran up to him.

 

“You’re good,” he said, impressed and Yixing beamed, ignoring the sweat trickling down his face.

 

“Thank you,” he answered.

 

“I’m Baekhyun and I’m twelve this year, what’s your name?”

 

Yixing raised his eyebrows. He was sure that he already knew. The guards that constantly stood around him had to be a tell-tale sign.

 

But Baekhyun was still grinning, tilting his head.

 

“I’m Yixing. I turned thirteen two weeks ago.”

 

Baekhyun bumped his shoulder before Yixing could react.

 

“You’re a good catcher, Yixing. You should play more often. It must get boring, stuck in the castle all day.”

 

Yixing bit down on his tongue, nodding shyly.

 

“Come play with me more often,” Baekhyun shuffled his feet, toying with the bruised fruit in his hands.

 

“The other kids don’t like me so much. They say I’m too loud and my hyung is always away. He’s studying.”

 

“You’re alright,” Yixing said immediately. Baekhyun peeked up at him through his long fringe and he squashed down the urge to give him a hug.

 

“You should come to the castle sometimes,” he said before the guards could protest, “my parents don’t like me to be away for too long.”

 

The smile on Baekhyun’s face made him brighten and it lingered long after he had gone home and sat down to dinner with his parents.

 

From then on, Baekhyun became his constant companion and growing up in the castle was no longer quite so lonely.

 

True to his words, Baekhyun was loud and lively. He was also incredibly charming, winning the king and queen’s favour in the first dinner that Yixing had invited him to.

 

He was there for all of Yixing’s ups and downs, reminding him to eat and drink when he studied for an important exam, bringing him tea and sweets from the town when he could not venture out on his own.

 

Baekhyun taught him many things outside of his normal tuition, how to climb trees and pick the driest branches to make a fire.

 

No flowers meant no fruit in their kingdom but if they were lucky, they could get fish or some sort of sea creature from a stall that brought them in from the neighbouring kingdom.

 

Baekhyun had his own way of getting into Yixing’s bedroom when the prince had the doors locked to focus on an examination.

 

The loud rapping on the window startled Yixing out of his study induced stupor and he snapped his head up, cursing when his quill scraped across the page, leaving ink smears.

 

His candle was nearly burnt to a stump and the lamps were flickering, close to burning out.

 

Yixing set down his quill, rising out of his chair to see what was going on.

 

Besides an old dead tree, there was nothing outside his bedroom window.

 

He did a double-take when he saw Baekhyun, perched on one of the tree’s branches, smiling cheerily at him.

 

“Baekhyun! What in the name of God are you doing here?”

 

Yixing yanked open the window hurriedly, his heart in his mouth when the wind rustled through the tree’s creaky branches.

 

Baekhyun grabbed his arm, hopping from the tree branch and into his bed chambers, landing lightly on the window seat.

 

He held out the basket swaying from his arm in triumph and Yixing found himself speechless at his audacity.

 

“Did you climb the tree with that?”

 

“It’s not that hard, truly. Here, you must be hungry.”

 

Baekhyun unpacked the basket to lay out a variety of buns and sandwiches, unharmed from his precarious journey and two glass bottles of milk, with cream still lining the top.

 

“Baekhyun- it’s past dinner time!”

 

“Consider it supper then,” Baekhyun said, twisting the top of the milk bottle open.

 

“Come on. This cream won’t stay good for much longer.”

 

The fresh smell of sweet cream was enough to convince Yixing and he joined Baekhyun beside the window seat, sitting so close that their shoulders brushed.

 

“Shall I do it?” Baekhyun held up the skimmer and Yixing gestured to him, more preoccupied with the rest of the contents still in the basket.

 

He rummaged around, coming up with a paper bag stuffed with roast fish. It was a whole fish, still smoking hot.

 

“Where did you even get these things? Fish is expensive, Baekhyun!”

 

Baekhyun shrugged, grinning mysteriously.

 

“I called in some favours. Now eat up. I’ll bet you didn’t eat much at dinner.”

 

Yixing tore into the fish, ripping out the white flesh without a second thought. He had not realised just how hungry he was after hours of studying.

 

He could only smile around the fish’s bones as Baekhyun skimmed the cream from the milk bottles, delicately spreading it over a scone.

 

His eyes grew wide when he pulled out the tiniest bottle of a dark pink liquid so rare that even he did not have much of it as a prince.

 

“Is that-.”

 

“Jam from Seong? Yes, it is.” Baekhyun was grinning at him proudly, and Yixing could only throw an arm around his waist to squeeze him close.

 

“You’re the best thing that ever happened to me, Byun Baekhyun.”

 

Yixing loved Baekhyun like a brother and often indulged his whims. In fact, he indulged him far too often.

 

“The weather’s so nice, Xing ge. We should go out and have a picnic in the forest,” Baekhyun whined, draped over Yixing’s chair dramatically.

 

Yixing laughed, finishing his sentence with a flourish before turning to look at his friend.

 

“You know we aren’t allowed to go into the forest without chaperones,” he reminded, flicking Baekhyun’s forehead with his quill.

 

“Besides, the forest is terrifying.”

 

Indeed, nothing much has changed since he ventured in as a child.

 

When he turned seventeen, his father had taken him into the forest to hunt, and Yixing could never quite shake the feeling that something was always watching inside the trees.

 

“Yes but I’m bored of the castle grounds, ge. At least the forest is fresh and exciting.”

 

Yixing tickled his nose with his quill, smiling when Baekhyun scrunched his nose up at him.

 

“Choose elsewhere, Baekhyunnie. The forest makes my skin crawl.”

 

“Wimp,” Baekhyun pouted, dropping low enough for his chin to almost brush against Yixing’s shoulder.

 

Yixing merely shrugged, careful not to hit him and turned back to his essay.

 

“Yah, stop ignoring me for your work.” Baekhyun poked his shoulder and Yixing twitched.

 

Touching was a strange thing, a taboo for them. His parents were overly paranoid and with his eighteenth birthday approaching, they seemed only even more on edge than usual.

 

“Don’t. You know what Father has said about touching me,” he said evenly, rolling up his parchment into a neat little scroll.

 

Baekhyun rolled his eyes.

 

“He touches you all the time,” he pointed out and Yixing shrugged. He had learnt not to question his parents, trusting that they had their own reasons for forbidding certain things.

 

“So where do you want to go?” He rose and Baekhyun got up hurriedly, tapping his chin as if deep in thought.

 

“I’ll have the servants prepare the food.”

 

“I want to walk the town,” Baekhyun said as they left Yixing’s study, nicking Yixing’s coin purse from his pocket.

 

Yixing could only smile as he watched his friend toss it up and down in the air.

 

“Perhaps we could beg free buns from Jongwoon again.”

 

“You know I’m more than capable of paying for your buns.” Yixing snatched his purse out of midair, grinning when Baekhyun pouted.

 

“It’s more fun if we don’t have to pay,” he grumbled, “besides, Jongwoon likes pretty things. All you have to do is unbutton your tunic a little and bat your lashes.”

 

Yixing laughed, shaking his head.

 

“You’re such a minx, Byun Baekhyun.”

 

Baekhyun winked.

 

“Just watch. I’ll convince him to bake a cake for your birthday.”

 

There was very little fanfare on his birthday. The castle did not magically sprout the flowers that his mother talked about, nor did the waters of the forest run clear.

 

His father took him out on a hunt, alone this time, without Baekhyun tagging along and making enough noise to frighten away half the forest’s creatures.

 

“Take these,” Yixing looked down at the gloves that his father offered him, made of soft leather and lined with silk on the inside.

 

His father’s brow was creased, though he was smiling and that confused Yixing. He slipped them on nevertheless, smiling with thanks and mounted his horse.

 

“I can’t believe you’re near full grown now,” his father remarked as they made their way into the forest, the hunting party a little way behind to give father and son more privacy.

 

Yixing laughed, squeezing his heels against Yanzi’s sides to urge her into a trot.

 

The forest was silent as always, the horse’s hooves crunching on poor dead grass and red-gold leaves.

 

“It seemed like just yesterday when I held you in my arms and you spat into my face.”

 

Yixing rolled his eyes when his father nudged him playfully, his eyes searching through the thick undergrowth for any sort of game.

 

Meat was hard to come by in his kingdom, what with the lack of clean water in the forest.

 

His skin crawled as they passed the very stream he had visited as a child, the stench of the water absolutely revolting.

 

He shuddered and his father glanced at him.

 

“You still remember the fawn.”

 

Yixing nodded shakily, biting down hard on his lip as the horses crossed the stream, careful not dip their hooves into it.

 

“Death is a part of our world. We cannot live without it.”

 

Perhaps he had wanted to say more but the dogs had scented something and they leapt ahead, following their noses.

 

The king spurred his horse forward and Yixing followed reluctantly.

 

His phobia of blood made him linger in the back as the hunting party jostled for space, each one eager to be the one to shoot the game.

 

As he watched them from the back of the party, Yixing could not help but notice a flicker of movement, a shadow without a host.

 

He frowned, turning Yanzi towards it.

 

He was about seventy paces away from the party, unaware that he had even moved, when his father called out for him.

 

“I’m coming!” Yixing turned and shrieked when he was confronted with the full skeletal body of a stag, hidden in the thicket of bushes, with macabre blood dripping out of the eye sockets.

 

His horse reared and he was flung backwards, out of the saddle so hard that the wind was knocked out of him when he landed.

 

One glove was knocked astray as he lay in the crunchy grass, white faced with shock.

 

“Yixing!” His father was kneeling beside him, one hand reaching touch his cheek.

 

“Did you- did you see that?” Yixing gasped, ignoring the fact that he was shaking, cold sweat sliding down his forehead. He struggled to sit up, even as his father tried to insist he remain still.

 

“What did you see?”

 

He managed to drag himself to his feet, his father clutching him close.

 

“It- It was a stag,” he stammered as the hunting party began to whisper amongst themselves.

 

“A stag’s bones. Antlers and all.”

 

The air was too thin, it was hard to breathe. There were too many people and Yixing wanted out.

 

He wanted to go home and hide in his father’s arms for a good hour.

 

His father ordered men to inspect the thicket before helping him back into the saddle. Yixing clutched at the reins, chewing his lip so hard that he tasted blood.

 

That was enough for him to stop gnawing, the metallic taste turning his stomach.

 

No one noticed the patch of grass that he had touched with his bare hand withering away, turning into dust.

 

“Please stay,” he pleaded that night when Baekhyun made to leave.

 

He had been sent to bed after dinner, with strict orders to rest, after he had emptied his upset stomach into a chamber pot before he could eat.

 

Baekhyun tucked him in, fretting over his covers.

 

Yixing was careful to only grab his shirt and Baekhyun made no move to pull his hand off.

 

“Alright,” his friend folded his legs beneath him, settling into a chair.

 

He lit a lamp and Yixing sighed.

 

Even in his mind’s eye, he could still see the rack of bones dripping blood, the stag’s open mouth almost mocking him.

 

“Shall I read to you?”

 

“No. Sing, please.”

 

Baekhyun had the voice of an angel, sweet and melodic. It lulled him to sleep in moments. He stayed awake long enough to feel Baekhyun brush a lock of hair away from his forehead before slipping under.

 

But his dreams were not peaceful.

 

Over and over again, he dreamt of the little fawn in the woods, blood dripping from its eye sockets, hearing its spine snap and the stag’s skeleton.

 

Little flashes of shadows echoed throughout his dreams, coupled with loud cackling and shrieking that could not belong to any human or animal.

 

Yixing awoke in cold sweat, his pillow and sheets soaked through. His duvet had been kicked off sometime during the night and lay in a heap on the floor.

 

Yixing lay in bed for a few moments, trying to calm his racing heart, his fingers scrunching the sheets.

 

Slowly, he swung his legs off the bed, wobbling over to the window.

 

The sunlight was milky, filtered as he pulled aside the drapes, opening the windows to let the chilly air in.

 

Yixing basked in the cold, until a robe draping around his shoulders startled him.

 

“You’ll catch a chill, dear,” he turned to see his mother smiling at him, sorrow catching on the corners of her eyes.

 

Yixing longed to bury himself in her arms but she stopped touching him too, ever since he turned thirteen. He wondered if there was something so wrong with him that even his own mother could not touch him.

 

“Tell me about our curse, Mother,” he pleaded, “surely eighteen is old enough.”

 

He had felt strange all of his birthday, as if his insides had been rearranged and he was an entirely different person.

 

She hesitated for a beat and Yixing forgot himself, reaching out to grab her shoulders.

 

“Yixing!” The shout was enough to freeze him into place.

 

He turned to see his father standing in the doorway, his face ghost white.

 

“Where’s your glove?”

 

“I-.” Yixing looked down at his hands, drawing them back into his pockets.

 

“I must have lost one in the forest yesterday.”

 

His father grabbed his hands and Yixing found himself frightened of the look in his eyes.

 

“You mustn’t take it off.”

 

“But Father-.”

 

“I will have a new one made for you. But you must never take it off again.”

 

“But why?” There were tears pooling in his eyes and frustration welled up in him.

 

Yixing was sick of being lost and confused, just taking what his parents said without questioning.

 

His father’s jaw tensed and he gestured to the bed.

 

“Sit down.”

 

Yixing obeyed, still gripping his father’s hands.

 

“Do you remember what powers the great tree blessed our ancestors?”

 

Yixing nodded.

 

Huang Lei Laoshi had spoken to him a little about the subject but he never went to great length as it was a topic his parents had forbidden him to touch.

 

Yixing knew only bits and pieces, like how their emblem was in the shape of a horse with a horn and that they were given the power to heal almost any injury inflicted.

 

He said as much and his father nodded gravely.

 

“That’s true. But what you don’t know is that over two centuries ago, the power began manifesting as a curse.”

 

“A curse?”

 

“Yes. A young prince touched his mother with his right hand, merely just grabbed it to hand her something and she fell down dead.”

 

Yixing’s eyes widened.

 

“Some thought it was a fluke, that the queen might have been already poisoned. But when that prince married and his wife birthed a baby girl, the child killed her nurse just by touching her.”

 

Yixing opened his mouth to say something but his father held up his hand.

 

“There’s more.”

 

“We used to be able to heal painlessly, almost endlessly. But the princess who killed her nurse, felt her agony when she tried to heal her and could not complete the process.”

 

The talk with his father was long and arduous and Yixing was so drained by the end of it.

 

He almost wished that he could return back to the time where he knew nothing of the burden that had been placed upon his shoulders.

 

Even though he knew that Baekhyun would be upset, Yixing still refused to see him, sending his servants out to deal with his friend’s inevitable melt down.

 

It was safer that way, with his glove still being worked on.

 

His father had said that the glove had to be made of a particular thickness and if Yixing was going to be wearing it for the rest of his life, it had better be comfortable.

 

Yixing shuttered himself inside his room, eating and drinking only what the servants brought him. His plan succeeded for only two days, before Baekhyun inevitably forced his way back in.

 

It was very reminiscent of when he had brought him food before a tiresome examination. Yixing had just come out of the bath, his body still dripping wet.

 

The air smelt of honey and cotton as he wrapped a towel loosely around his waist, rubbing his hair with another.

 

He was lonely, having spent yet another day without Baekhyun.

 

Yixing did not realise how much time he spent with Baekhyun attached at his hip until he had to keep away.

 

He missed him desperately but there was nothing that could be done until his glove was finished.

 

The window creaked ominously and Yixing whirled around, freezing in shock when he saw Baekhyun, clothed entirely in black and perched atop the old tree’s branches.

 

“Baekhyun,” he said, lowering his hands from his hair.

 

For a moment, he forgot the state he was in, too relieved to see his best friend.

 

And in the next, reality came crashing back down and he gasped, folding his towel around his body as Baekhyun’s cheeks flushed bright pink.

 

“What- How-.”

 

“You’re avoiding me.”

 

Baekhyun was still perched atop the tree branch, gripping the hinges of the window tightly. His lips were pinched and his eyes were squinted in anger.

 

“I don’t have a choice,” Yixing replied, refusing to meet his eyes. He hated upsetting his friend.

 

“Yes, you do.” Baekhyun’s voice was tinged with anger and Yixing’s heart stuttered when the branch he stood upon creaked.

 

“Go away, Baekhyun. I promise I have my reasons.” He eyed the swaying branch and moved closer.

 

Baekhyun did not move, his eyes dark.

 

“We’re best friends, Yixing. You should be able to tell me everything,” he insisted and Yixing’s stomach swooped.

 

The wind picked up, howling and screaming like a banshee and Yixing’s heart rate picked up, his blood roaring in his ears.

 

“Baekhyun, come away-.”

 

But it was too late.

 

In a split second, the branch beneath Baekhyun’s feet gave way, so suddenly that he could not catch the window in time.

 

“Baekhyun!”

 

Yixing leapt forward without thinking, catching hold of Baekhyun’s flailing hand.  He yanked him back, hard enough for him to tumble over the window’s ledge, falling hard against his chest.

 

“Baek, are you-.”

 

His heart flew to his mouth when Baekhyun’s eyes widened, his body beginning to convulse.

 

“Oh-, oh! Baekhyun!”

 

Yixing dropped Baekhyun’s hand as if it were a hot coal but it was already too late.

 

Baekhyun was shuddering, his mouth open in a silent scream. His back arched, so very like the young fawn that Yixing was so familiar with.

 

“No- no! Baekhyun! Help! Somebody please!” Yixing reached out just as foam began to gather at the corners of Baekhyun’s lip. His eyes rolled back in his head and he shuddered, muscles spasming.

 

The sense of helplessness overwhelmed him like a tidal wave and almost instinctively, Yixing grabbed him with his other hand.

 

The pain exploded through him, stars dancing behind his eyelids. Someone was swinging a sledgehammer at his skull, agony piercing his bones. His heart pounded in his chest, as if it might explode into little tiny pieces.

 

His muscles spasmed too and he collapsed onto his knees, screaming.

 

His blood roared in his ears and all he could see was white.

 

We feel the pain of those we heal.

 

The words echoed in his mind as he forced himself to keep upright.

 

Yixing bit down hard on his bottom lip, tasting blood on his tongue as he gripped Baekhyun’s hand like a lifeline.

 

It seemed like a never ending battle, the pain causing his vision to swim. His hearing blurred around him and he heard only a flurry of white noise as he struggled to focus, to harness the healing power he was blessed with.

 

But the agony snatched his breath away, leaving his breathless, boneless. He curled up onto the floor beside Baekhyun, tears streaming down his face as he gasped for air.

 

“Yixing, Yixing!”

 

It was his father calling him, frightened and anxious.

 

Yixing struggled to keep his eyes open, to keep himself conscious as he croaked out.

 

“Baekhyun. Help- Baekhyun.”

 

Even as he was lifted into strong arms, Yixing could not bring himself to release Baekhyun’s hand.

 

He turned onto his side when he was placed onto something soft, the edges of his vision turning black.

 

There were more people, murmuring and speaking all at once and the darkness was welcoming him, the pain not quite so piercing.