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“It would be so nice to live in a place like that,” Taeil says one night, wrist deep in a bowl of buttered popcorn. 

It’s the first time he’s spoken since the movie started, and Donghyuck tears his eyes away from the screen to look at him in interest. Taeil looks like comfort personified -- wearing his favorite Hawkins hoodie, eyes glossed over and lips shiny with grease. Donghyuck wants so badly to kiss him. 

“You wanna live in a tree?” Donghyuck says instead, burrowing closer into Taeil’s embrace. The two of them have been on a Ghibli binge since Friday thanks to the pandemic-induced lull in schedules, and only now have they gotten around to watching My Neighbor Totoro. “I don’t think there’s plumbing there, hyung.” 

“I meant the countryside, you brat.” Taeil snickers, left cheek pouched with exploded corn kernels. “But now that I think of it, maybe a tree isn’t so bad either. The camphor would mask the smells.” 

Donghyuck’s nose wrinkles, though he’s not sure if it’s at the prospect of not having bathrooms or having to leave the city. “What’s so good about the country anyway?” Donghyuck asks, the vast rolling hills on the screen reminding him of his tangerine flavored childhood. It was nice, but  -- “It’s nothing special.” 

Taeil gives him this funny look, like he’s said the most ridiculous thing. “I just think it’s neat,” he replies. “It’s peaceful and silent, and I get to make my own jam.”

“You can make jam here just fine!” Donghyuck pouts, voice almost a whine. “Just say you hate me and go.” 

Laughter trickles over the soft instrumentals of the movie, and a gentle hand comes down to ruffle Donghyuck’s hair. 

“Whoever said I don’t want you there with me, huh?” Taeil chides, pearly whites out in all their glory. Donghyuck gulps down the quickening of his heart. “We can run away together. We’ll get a nice house and grow our own food and raise chickens.” 

A thoughtful pause, and then, “And we won’t have neighbors.”

Donghyuck blinks. “What?” 

“We can be as loud as we want,” Taeil explains, sleazy. 

“Huh.” Donghyuck’s already lost the plot of this whole damn movie, but he doesn’t quite care. He leans in, a hair’s breadth away from Taeil’s lips. “Okay, I’m listening.” 

 

🌿🍄🧺

 

It should be pretty easy, all things considered. 

It doesn’t take a lot of money to rent a cottage in the middle of nowhere. And in the off chance that capitalism has also somehow taken over the woodlands while he wasn’t looking, then Donghyuck doesn’t actually mind splurging -- not for Taeil anyway. 

Besides, he’s made more bank this year than he knows what to do with, and it’s not even June. 

All Donghyuck really needs is a good weekend, but the thing with idol life is that once the momentum picks up, it doesn’t ever stop. The company’s been gearing up for the Big Reveal, and life’s just been a day in and day out of photoshoots and recording sessions, all the days bleeding into each other in a never ending loop of Wednesdays. 

It left absolutely no room for plans of frolicking in the woods, which frustrated Donghyuck to no end. It’s not even the promise of sex; they fooled around in the dorms last night just fine (much to Mark’s non-noise cancelling chagrin). It’s just that rare for Taeil to say he wants anything at all, making it difficult for Donghyuck to spoil him rotten. The man's basically set for life as he is, and it would be endearing if not slightly inconvenient. 

Donghyuck wanted so badly to do this one thing for him, so much so that when Taeyong asked him what he wanted for his birthday, he threw his request for a new gaming chair out the window and asked for a day off. 

(“Come again?” Taeyong’s hand stilled, a stupid amount of fish feed trailing out of his minion colored can and into the tank. Donghyuck had to point with his lips to stop the impending murder. 

“Yeah.” He crossed his legs under himself, feeling the hydraulics of the chair work against his weight. It’s doing a much better job than the one he had in his room, but he wasn’t about to tempt himself now. “I was wondering if you could bargain with management for me? A day is fine. Two and I’ll love you forever.” 

“Are you not getting enough rest?” Taeyong asked worriedly. “I know they stretch you pretty thin.” 

“I’m fine, hyung. I just--” Donghyuck felt his cheeks burn, though he’s not sure why. “Taeil hyung’s birthday is coming up too. I wanted to take him somewhere nice.”)

Their leader cooed so much afterwards that Donghyuck wanted to slip out of his own skin, but in the end it got him here: schedule free for the weekend, three hours away from Seoul, with hands hovering over Taeil’s eyes as he led them across a cobblestone walkway.

“Is this the part where you tell me you’re a mafioso and that you’re sorry you have to kill me?” 

“What kind of shit have you been reading?” Donghyuck chuckles, his feet shuffling carefully behind Taeil.

“That’s classified information.” Taeil says, the rise of his cheekbones coming up to the edge of Donghyuck’s palms in a cheeky grin. “But if you need any ideas for the Halloween Party, I can say in full confidence that you make a really sexy mob boss.” 

Donghyuck snorts, but there’s a hammering in his chest. They’re only a couple steps away from the perfect vantage point, and the closer they get the more nervous he becomes. 

It’s not a hit or miss, he has to remind himself. Donghyuck knows for a fact that Taeil would like this, love this even, so he’s not really sure why he’s having kittens.

“Yah,” Taeil says, startling Donghyuck out of his thoughts. He doesn’t remember when he stopped walking. “Whatever it is, you know I’ll love it right? Even if you murder me?” 

“Thanks?” Donghyuck lets out a breath. “Though that’s not how I planned to take you out.”

Before the older could reply, Donghyuck drops his hands from Taeil’s eyes, whispering a small ‘surprise!’ in his ear. 

It takes a moment for Taeil’s eyes to flutter open, but when they do the knot in Donghyuck’s stomach disappears, as if it hadn’t been there in the first place. 

“Oh my god,” Taeil gasps, eyes nearly sparkling. “Hyuck, it’s beautiful.” 

Donghyuck can’t help but agree.

The small cottage is hunkered low into the ground, a mere smidge in the vast expanse of garden green that surrounds it. Daisies and other delicate flowers dot the edges of the dirt pathway, while flowering vines curl all around the darkwood beams, reaching everywhere and spilling over the bay windows like a warm welcome. 

There’s a lake out back too, if Donghyuck remembers correctly, and he can already picture Taeil wanting to curl up like a cat under the sun after a soak in the waters. 

“Hey,” Donghyuck says from the back, wrapping his arms around Taeil’s waist. The older turns his head in wonder, like maybe Donghyuck’s part of this magic too. “Ready to play house with me?”  

Taeil leans his head back, a loaded smile on his lips. “I can’t wait.” 

 

🌿🍄🧺

 

It takes approximately five seconds for Taeil to fall in love with the kitchen, with its wooden countertops, windowsill herbs, and the sun filtering through the window overlooking the sparkling lake at the base of Mount Seoraksan. 

Donghyuck has to stifle a laugh when Taeil screams at the stocked pantry, pulling a bag of specialty pasta flour off the overhanging shelves that Donghyuck definitely did not plant there in advance. 

Together they knead the dough with their hands, singing along to the sounds of 80’s power ballads from an old transistor radio they found in one of the cupboards. The acoustics in the cottage holds up pretty well. By the time the house starts smelling of grilled pork belly, they’ve turned the kitchen into their little concert stage, complete with flour bombs and stolen kisses for special effects. 

Naturally, the kitchen turns into a mess. 

Donghyuck takes this opportunity to pull out a bottle of bubbly from the chiller, and drags Taeil out for a picnic on the shaded grass. Their lunch of Taelgeul Taelgeul Pasta and a variety of banchan sit on pretty stoneware plates, but they’re heathens so they drink the alcohol straight from the bottle. 

To Donghyuck, champagne always tastes bitter. But from Taeil’s lips, not so much. 

 

🌿🍄🧺

 

Donghyuck wakes up before he even realizes they fell asleep. 

The sun is not as hot as it should have been at half past three, but he’s not complaining. Nothing in these meadows works the same as it would in the city anyway; the air is cleaner, time is slower, and for the first time in ages, Donghyuck’s mind is at peace. 

He takes advantage of the wrinkle in time to stare at Taeil as he sleeps, tracing his features with his eyes and watching the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest. The way the sun falls on his small figure makes him look younger, and Donghyuck wonders if the years between them warp into nothing in these otherworldly lands, too.

“Were you just watching me sleep?” Taeil mumbles, some time later. There’s a sleepy smile on his face when Donghyuck comes into view. “That’s so creepy.” 

The sun is beginning to set in the horizon and the water starts to call them in.

“Excuse you, I’m delightful!” Donghyuck huffs, picking himself up from the blanket. “And I just happen to have an appreciation for beauty. You should have known what you were getting into when you asked me out.” 

“I wasn’t complaining,” Taeil says, eyes fond. “But I do wish you told me to pack swim trunks.” 

“Now why would I do that?” 

Taeil gapes at him and Donghyuck smiles, chucking his shirt as he walks away. 

 

🌿🍄🧺

 

The setting of the sun is red behind Donghyuck’s eyelids, and Taeil’s mouth is everywhere on his neck. It’s good, like the creation of the universe. Some kind of revelation. Divine. 

“Hyung,” Donghyuck pulls away, panting. The sound of water sloshing against the embankment and a little of something else loud in his ears. “There are ducks.”

“What?” Taeil looks dazed, lips red and puffy. “So?” 

“There are ducks,” Donghyuck repeats. “We’re not doing this in front of ducks.” 

Taeil promptly loses his shit. Donghyuck retaliates by launching the giggliest water fight the waters have ever seen. 

 

🌿🍄🧺

 

Dinner is an instant affair. Literally. 

“I can’t believe you brought ramen,” Taeil says, arms feeling like lead as he takes the cup of Shin Ramyeon to his lips. “But also thank God you brought ramen.” 

Donghyuck laughs against the headboard and proceeds to sleepily slurp the last of his noodles. They had completely forgotten about the mess in the kitchen, and by the time they got up from the water none of them had the energy to clean up, much less whip up something new from scratch. 

Just the mere act of washing up had Donghyuck ready to pass out. It was a miracle Taeil got him to wiggle into his matching gingham pajamas in the first place. 

“Hyung.” Donghyuck blinks, a moment of clarity suddenly coming to him. “What if this was the real deal?”

A questioning sound emerges from behind a cup of broth, “Hmm?”

“Like, what if you actually lived in a tree or something? There won’t be cup noodles in the middle of nowhere. I don’t think you’re gonna survive.” 

Taeil sets down his cup, now empty, and stares. “I’m pretty sure I’ve told you this before, but I don’t plan on doing this without you,” he smiles, this devastating thing. “You’re just gonna have to pack a lifetime’s worth of ramen into your duffel bag for when we run away because, Hyuckie?” 

Donghyuck wonders if Taeil could hear his heart from where he was. “Yeah?”

“You’re the real deal for me too.” 

“Okay cut!” Donghyuck screams, face burning in embarrassment. “Cut cut cut! It’s over. I’m going to die!” 

“What!” Taeil’s laughter bounces off the walls, like fireflies in a glass jar. “You can’t die! We haven’t watched Kiki’s Delivery Service yet!” 

“Watch it on your own! I’m in my feelings!” Donghyuck says, rolling around in bed with his head in his hands. Taeil laughs some more before pulling at Donghyuck’s arms and plopping him onto his chest where he’s safe from potentially falling off the bed. 

”Hey, I mean it,” Taeil says, kissing the top of Donghyuck’s head. “I love you.” 

“I love you too, hyung.” Donghyuck says automatically, looking up at him. “I don’t doubt that for a second. It’s just-- sometimes I feel like my heart can’t take it, you know? Like I’m going to spontaneously combust.” 

“I mean, same? I think that’s a good thing,” Taeil’s brows furrow excessively. “Or not. Does your family have a history of heart disease?” 

“Ah hyung!” Donghyuck whines, a pout evident in his voice. “I’m serious!” 

“Okay, okay.” Taeil chuckles, leaning down for a proper kiss. “I’m sorry. But seriously. I’m not going anywhere, so I think you should get used to it.” 

“Hmm. I guess it’s not a bad way to go all things considered,” Donghyuck mumbles. Taeil is warm and comfortable under him, and he feels himself slowly drift away. 

“No one’s going anywhere,” Taeil says, interrupting himself halfway through with a yawn. “Except to sleep maybe, but you already look like you’re halfway there.” 

Donghyuck manages a grunt, eyes fluttering close. It’s been a long day. He’s honestly surprised he made it past the noodles. 

Underneath him, Taeil shifts to shut the lights. Donghyuck barely registers the kiss goodnight, and falls asleep to the sound of summer winds and two hearts beating. 

 

🌿🍄🧺

 

Taeil wakes up as the sun starts streaming through the large bay windows. 

It can’t have been any later than 10, judging by the position of the sun in the sky, but it’s certainly way too early to be awake in a cottage in the middle of nowhere. He decides to head back to sleep, turning and reaching out to spatula an arm under Donghyuck’s waist. 

Only to find that Donghyuck isn’t there. 

Huh, strange. Donghyuck’s usually the last one up in the dorms on a regular day. Taeil cracks an eye open to see if he fell out of bed in his sleep, but finds the wooden floorboards devoid of any sign of the younger. 

He figures Donghyuck probably just slipped out for a morning leak, and Taeil resigns himself to waiting when it hits him -- this light buttery scent, something fruity and somehow warm in the early morning cold, taunting, taunting.

It smells like freshly baked pie, and Taeil shoots up from the comforters in a strange mix of excitement and horror. Did Donghyuck even know how to operate an oven? 

“As a matter of fact, I do. I just didn’t wanna risk it.” 

Taeil looks up just in time to see Donghyuck’s head pop into the room, before the rest of him follows with what looks to be a tray of pancakes and hot chocolate. 

Donghyuck settles breakfast on the foot of bed before plopping next to Taeil. He leans in to leave a quick kiss, a good morning on his lips. 

Taeil must’ve said it back or something, he doesn’t know. His brain’s too preoccupied trying to figure out if his hunger has anything to do with the fresh strawberry toppings or the fact that Donghyuck has his pajama sleeves pushed up provocatively so early in the morning. 

“You’re up early,” Taeil says, forcing himself to think of literally anything else as he wiggles his socked toes further into the bedsheets. “Did you sleep okay?” 

Donghyuck nods, cutting the humble stack into manageable pieces before feeding Taeil. It’s soft and fluffy, and it tastes like a dream. He cannot believe this is what they’ve all been missing out on by allowing Donghyuck to sleep in on weekends. Somebody’s gotta give the dorm aunt a break. 

“I slept great,” Donghyuck says, munching on his own portions. “Just wanted to get a headstart on the kitchen so you don’t have to.”

God, he forgot about that. Breakfast in bed and a jail free card from housework? Donghyuck might as well have stripped in front of him. 

“Ugh that’s so sexy of you,” Taeil groans, leaning closer. “Tell me more.” 

“Hmm, wanna know something?” Donghyuck asks, coy.

Taeil doesn’t know what the hell is happening, but okay. “Sure.”

“A fun fact about me is that pancakes are my second favorite thing to eat in bed.” 

Alright, that’s it. Taeil fucking loves this cottage. 

 

🌿🍄🧺

 

A much needed shower and two more helpings of Donghyuck’s pancakes later, they find themselves out in the gardens again. 

Somewhere between the big oak tree and the eerie entrance to the back forest -- which Donghyuck insists is a respawn portal, exists a small orchard of tiny wild strawberries. The caretaker of the cottage encouraged them to pick as many as they like, seeing as it’s season’s end, and they thought it would be a good idea to bring a basket home to make jam with.  

Well, Taeil did anyway. Donghyuck is too busy crouched low into the grass, hell bent on finding four-leaf clovers. He tries hard for a good ten minutes before giving up. “Hyung, it’s impossible.” 

Taeil snorts amid his fruit pickings, looking at the limbs sprawled out on the grass that was supposed to be his boyfriend. He was about to tell him to let it rest when his eyes zero in on something unusually symmetrical right by Donghyuck’s head. 

“Yah, I think I found one.” 

Donghyuck very nearly rolls over it, if not for Taeil’s meddling foot. The younger ends up rolling to the other side, before scrambling wildly to see if Taeil was fibbing. He was not. 

“That’s unfair! How’d you do that!” Donghyuck whines. “You didn’t even try!”

Taeil suppresses a giggle but fails, “Maybe you were looking too close? It’s always easier to see a break in a pattern from far away.”

The answer fails to appease Donghyuck, who cranks up the dramatics and positively wails

“C’mon, Hyuckie. It’s just a genetic mutation, not a miracle. You’re gonna be fine,” Taeil says.

“A genetic what now?” 

Donghyuck stares at him with that look on his face -- the one he gets when Taeil slips into one of his walking Wikipedia moods. A mix of confusion and awe, like he’s watching the first man land on the moon. Bitterly, it reminds Taeil of just how much young Donghyuck had to give up to become Lee Haechan. 

“You know they’re not actually lucky, right?” Taeil starts, nevermind that he still keeps a four-leaf clover in his wallet from his Rookie days. “They’re just mutations of the regular three-leaf clover that apparently only happens once in every ten thousand. Rare, yeah. Lucky, not so much.” 

“I mean, I knew that.” Donghyuck raises a brow. “But do you just keep statistics around with you everywhere you go?” 

That punches a laugh out of Taeil. “I happened to read it in a science magazine when I was in detention once.” he shrugs. “Guess it just stuck.” 

“As expected of Hanyang University.” Donghyuck intones, fully claiming his spot on the grass. Taeil manages to harvest two more cute strawberries before he speaks again. “You ever miss it?” 

“I never went, Hyuck.” Taeil reminds him with a patient smile.

“Right,” Donghyuck coughs. “But given the chance to do things differently, would you have gone?”

Taeil doesn’t immediately answer, and Donghyuck doesn’t press. 

The basket of strawberries fills up fast in silence, and they’re already on their way back to the cottage when Taeil speaks. “I don’t think so.”

Donghyuck stops in his tracks, fingers trembling, “No?”

“I like it here. I can’t imagine not being here.” In NCT. Singing. With you. 

“Me too, hyung.” Taeil hears a sigh of relief, “Me too.” 

 

🌿🍄🧺

 

The driver is due to come in an hour. 

They do a last sweep of the place, packing their bags and making sure they don’t leave their chargers from the sockets behind the bed. 

Donghyuck complains about not wanting to bring the other bubbly back to the dorms and insists they drink it. Taeil only laughs, taking the bottle out of its designated spot in the fridge. They manage to drink it out of mugs this time, and Donghyuck gets the bright idea of pushing the dining table up the wall so they could dance. 

An arm around his waist, tipsy at noon. Taeil listens to the crooning of the old transistor radio as they sway side to side in the middle of the kitchen. 

 

Glad to be

Here, alone, with a lover unlike no other

Sad to see

A new horizon slowly comin' into view, yeah

I wanna be livin'

For the love of you, oh, yes, I am

All that I'm givin'

Is for the love of you, alright now, oh

 

“Was it like you imagined?” Donghyuck asks, much later. The car is out front and they’re saying goodbye to the cottage, taking in the sights and sounds for posterity. “In your Studio Ghibli dreams?”

Taeil takes one look at Donghyuck, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and feels his future unravel before him. 

“Better,” Taeil says. It’s like tunnel vision, eyes on him. Only him. “Much, much better.” 

Donghyuck smiles at him like the sun and Taeil feels like a bird fully formed, ready to sing.