"you've got to be kidding me," mark says after taking a second look at the two-story building. "i don't want to get arrested."
"no one's getting arrested, relax," jaemin tells him as he puts his arm around mark's shoulder, pulling away from where they were standing, too close to the edge of the curb.
the gesture doesn't go unnoticed by mark.
behind them, the cars are speeding on the highway, like they're racing against the sun.
"i thought you were taking me to a proper magic clinic. you know, those that they're always showing on tv?” mark insists, “the legal type?"
the type of magic clinic that is not operating under the pretense of being a massage parlor, on the second floor of an old and ruined building at the outskirts of the city. the type of magic clinic that welcomes you with white silk robes and cotton slippers before presenting you with a list of all the perfectly trained witches that are more than willing to cast whatever your problem is away, for a reasonable price they say. the type of magic clinic that doesn’t have a neon purple sign advertising a special offer for a couple counseling session, nor a sex shop right underneath.
"yeah, but we both know none of us can afford legal. this is the closest thing we've got, do you want to get rid of your curse or not?"
“of course i do. what kind of question is that?”
“then stop complaining. you said you trusted me.”
mark groans, but follows him anyways, keeping his eyes on jaemin’s back as the younger pushes the big black doors and they enter the building. his level of trust in his roommate is not an issue, mark’s here after all, isn’t he? the problem resides somewhere else.
mark’s family isn’t exactly fond of witches. their views on witchcraft land on a more conservative side, that’s just how mark was raised, and no matter how much mark’s own values changed as he was growing up, there’s still something that feels wrong about it.
“you know,” mark starts, “if my grandmother knew what i’m about to do she would just pull the bible out straight away and start praying for my soul,” they’re demons, his grandmother would say to a five-year-old mark, bedtime stories replaced with warnings and lessons, they were human once, but they let the demons in, to control their minds and bodies.
don’t let the demons get you too, mark.
“your grandmother has been praying for your soul since you met me and jeno in college,” jaemin reminds him. “quit the religious act, mark, you’re too far from being a saint. i bet your grandmother still thinks you’re a virgin.”
mark’s about to answer, but the sight in front of him swipes all the words from his lips.
no, the problem isn’t na jaemin or lee jeno, like his grandmother thinks. the problem isn’t his family either.
the problem resides in the dim lights of the hallway ahead of them, in the green smoke that floats in the air, and in the rows of parlors and boutiques that hide their interiors behind black curtains. it's in some of the storefronts' handwritten signs that advertise burnt magpie feathers, moonbeams in jars, chopped lizard toes, or salamander skin dust.
the problem, really, is that no matter how terribly wrong everything around him feels, it also is deeply enticing.
mark won’t ever admit that out loud.
"no offense but people here look like they're the ones casting curses,” mark whispers after a couple of girls all dressed in all black mesh walk past them. it was impossible to miss the lack of white in their eyes, nor the jar full of what mark hopes it’s not human eyeballs that one of them was holding in her arms like you would hold your favorite plushie. a cold chill runs through mark’ body. “shit, jaemin, how do you even know this place?"
jaemin stops for a second, right in front of the stairs that would take them to the second floor, where the magic clinic is. he looks at mark, then up the stairs, then at mark once again. he seems to be hesitating about the answer, and that is something that jaemin never does. he’s honest and straightforward, it’s one of the things that mark likes the most about him, that’s why jaemin is his friend before he is his roommate.
there are no secrets between them.
"jeno and i are regulars," jaemin confesses.
or so mark thought.
“what the hell”
"i didn’t tell you because i knew this would be your reaction, okay?” jaemin starts climbing the stairs, mark following close right behind him.
“what do you mean you’re regulars ? what do you need magic for?”
“well, we wanted to try some new things in bed, that’s how it started.”
mark stops. he thought a jar full of eyeballs would be the thing that would mortify him the most today, but it’s not.
“oh my god,” he blurts out, and then a little lower like he doesn’t want to hear his own words, “is this all a- a sex thing?”
jaemin flinches and stops as well, just a couple of steps away from reaching the second floor. he looks back, right at mark, and the look on his face tells mark that he’s pushed it a bit too far. he didn’t mean to sound like that. all judgemental, condescending even. it’s just that mark’s read about all the things that magic can bring into the game and let’s say he wishes he could forget most of them.
sure, let’s throw in some handcuffs, vibrators, maybe costumes, and some leather if vanilla sex isn’t enough. but are real claws and horns necessary in the bedroom?
magic knows no limits. that’s one of the reasons why mark doesn’t trust it.
“shut up mark lee, you’re in this mess because of a sex thing , remember?” jaemin sighs, then signals around him. “and i’m telling you, that’s how i first learned about this place, but it’s not the only reason why i keep coming. turned out some spells are quite useful for housekeeping. how do you think our houseplants are still alive?"
and with that jaemin turns around again and keeps going up the stairs, no at all interested in the dumbfounded look that mark is giving him.
"what, like regular water isn't enough now?" marks asks, climbing up one more step to get closer to his friend.
"it sure isn’t when we forget to water them almost every week. and remember the thing with the bugs? well, i got rid of them, didn’t i?"
"hold up. na jaemin, how many spells did you–"
a misstep. that’s all it takes.
mark got lucky, a week ago, when he left with only a scraped knee as a cyclist ran into him at the gym’s parking. mark also got lucky four days ago when he was fast enough to retreat his hand in time after mrs. park’s dog, a lovely poodle that mark pets every time they meet at the park in front of their apartment complex, suddenly decided that mark’s fingers were going to be his treats for the day.
jaemin insists that those are not the only two instances. mark cut himself six days ago trying to cook a simple loaf of bread. he tripped in the shower two days ago and has some ugly bruises on his left arm because of it. just yesterday he realized when he got home that someone stole his wallet on the subway.
being cursed is pretty fucking annoying.
now, falling down the stairs? that is simply terrifying.
there’s this fleeting moment when you just realize that you’ve lost your balance and that gravity forgives no one . time slows down, and you can feel your own body tilting backward, answering the depth's call, all while knowing that there is absolutely nothing that you can do to stop it on your own.
but, once again, mark got lucky, because he didn’t come alone.
"fuck,” jaemin grunts as he helps mark getting right back on his feet, hard grip still on mark’s wrist. “are you okay?"
"i'm fine, i'm fine,” mark answers, breathless. “thank you, jaemin."
they both climb up the rest of the stairs until they’re standing safely on the second floor, as far away as possible from the edge of the staircase. mark immediately leans his back against the black wall, closing his eyes and trying to catch his breath. for a moment all that he can hear is his heart, beating like crazy due to the frightful moment, but all of it starts to fade as mark begins to breathe normally once again. jaemin’s hand drawing circle motions on his back to calm him down it’s also of great help.
"that was a close one," jaemin says once mark opens his eyes. there’s no hint of teasing in his voice. he sounds tired and concerned.
mark can’t help but feel a little bit guilty.
"listen,” jaemin’s eyes find his. “i trust these people. they're cool, and nice. they help people with their magic, and before you say anything no, they're not tricking them. i know they can help you. please, let them help you, mark. i don’t want you to get hurt."
there are other ways to get out of this situation, and it’s not like mark hasn’t considered them for the past couple of weeks.
he could always report the cursing, let the authorities handle the situation now that they have magic regulations unlike fifty years ago. it could get a bit messy, considering that there would be an investigation on the subject, too many questions for too many strangers to ask, and truth be told, mark is not entirely proud of the answers that would be found. the whole situation is still not his fault, but alas, he is directly involved in it. if found guilty then the witch would have to lift the curse herself and pay mark a small retribution for the damages caused.
mark doubts the amount of money would even be enough to cover the costs of hiring a good lawyer, which leaves him with the option of waiting for the curse to lose its power.
it might not be the smartest decision seeing as he almost could have cracked his head open five minutes ago.
jaemin wants what’s best for him. mark knows this, and deep down he also knows that whoever’s waiting for him at the other side of the clinic’s door might be his best chance at getting out of the mess that he’s in right now.
"i’ll do it. but it doesn’t mean i trust them. "
"just stop buying all the shit people say about witches on tv, alright? not all witches are evil."
"a witch literally cursed me two weeks ago," mark whines.
"well, you know. you did sleep with her girlfriend."
in all fairness, mark isn't expecting pointy hats.
the witch that welcomes them into the clinic looks more like a broken art student than a powerful evil creature. he introduces himself as ten, and jaemin and he have a good time talking while mark just stands there, wondering who renjun is and why does jaemin seem to be disappointed when he finds out that he’s not working the night shift. mark also studies the place -it doesn't look like the magic clinics he's seen on tv at all. the walls are black instead of pearl white, hard bricks instead of marble, billboards and banners of almost every next big party in town hanging off them instead of government authorization badges. the lights are low, enough to see but also to be deceived by shadows, and there’s some kind of buzz in the air that makes mark feel like he’s out in some club at 3 am with absolutely no idea of how the night is going to end.
more often than not he wakes up the next morning on someone else’s bed.
"you’re in the right place, mark," he hears ten say. “i’m sure we can help.”
"thank you, ten" jaemin turns and smiles at mark, "that's great, mark, isn't it?"
there are also some nights when mark leaves the club before it’s 3 am. he doesn’t say goodbye, doesn’t tell anyone. he just calls for a taxi to take him home, and tries to count the stars from the backseat.
“yeah, it’s great.”
ten gives mark a form to fill in, standard procedure he says, to get a general understanding of the situation that brought him in. after mark hands it back the witch guides him and jaemin into a big hall with a wall full of windows and plenty of seats. then they are told to make themselves comfortable, and to wait while ten finds out who’s best suited and available for mark’s specific case, his words exactly.
there’s a mirror hanging on the wall next to them, and when mark takes a look at his reflection he can almost hear it laughing at him.
“thank you for doing this,” jaemin says to him in a whisper.
behind the windows the sun has already set, and the nightlife is rising.
ten comes back sooner than they expected and he asks mark -just mark- to follow him into one of the offices, as he calls them. they walk through a long hallway, rows of doors at both sides, and mark sees what he thinks it’s pink smoke slipping under the doorframe of one of them.
“donghyuck will be with you in a minute,” ten smiles as he pushes one of the doors open, “you’re in very good hands.”
that’s how mark finds himself waiting in a different room, all by himself, trying not to be shaken by the sight of a very realistic figure model of a crow that seems to be looking at him from where it’s perched on top of a bookshelf.
it’s a bit cliché, although mark knows better than to pay attention to all those witchphobic stereotypes, like the green and wrinkled skin, the long nails that could cut through one's neck, the ragged black clothes or the yellow eyes. he's aware that witches look nothing like the creatures that can be found in pre-magic regulations pop culture, especially in children's books and movies, that it was all part of an old movement that only wanted to spread lies in order to instigate hate and fear.
mark understands all of that and yet, when the door finally opens, he is genuinely surprised.
sure, he might not have been expecting a pointy hat, but he didn't expect a boy his age with a ponytail wearing a bright yellow shirt under a black dungaree either.
"i'm sorry for making you wait, i had to make a phone call and it went on for a little bit longer than i thought it would," the witch says, and his voice too is unexpected, high-pitched but soothing somehow. he’s holding a piece of paper in his hands that mark immediately recognizes as the form that he had to fill in with jaemin at the front counter earlier.
only when the witch seems to have read it thoroughly twice does he look up.
and well, fuck.
mark gulps. maybe the wrinkled green skin would've been better, because the face that he's now staring at has to be far more dangerous than any type of magic.
the witch takes a seat on the big, dark green armchair that’s opposite to the couch that mark’s sat on, those two being the only seats available in the whole room, which isn’t exactly small but rather filled with furniture and objects, some of which mark does not recognize. there’s the big cauldron in one of the corners, and rows and rows of shelves holding dozens of jars containing what it looks like different herbs and dried flowers.
mark breathed a sigh of relief earlier when he didn’t spot any eyeballs inside.
"i saw you coming in with jaemin. if i remember correctly you're his roommate, right? he talks about you sometimes."
if mark wasn’t so busy tracing the lines between the boy’s cheek’s moles with his eyes he might have gotten a bit upset. na jaemin has no business talking about him behind his back with a witch, no matter how stunning said witch is.
"eh, that would be me, yes."
"well, nice to finally meet you mark. i'm lee donghyuck, i’ve been assigned to your case, so let’s see what can i do to help, okay?" donghyuck smiles, and mark immediately recalls one article he saw online about plastic surgery involving magic. it changed the game completely. nobody wants to go under surgery when you can have a beautiful new nose with a snap of fingers. "it says here you were cursed two weeks ago?"
donghyuck must have done something similar with his lips. it would be highly unfair that someone got heart-shaped lips like that naturally.
"how do you know?"
"how do i know what?” mark asks, eyes snapping from the witch's lips to his eyes and oh, fuck , he's definitely been caught staring. donghyuck's eyes are already on him when mark meets them, a dark shade of brown filled with amusement and something else, an emotion that mark isn’t able to pinpoint.
donghyuck’s eyes are pretty though, just like the rest of him.
focus, mark, focus. he's just a boy.
donghyuck smiles again, but he does it in a different way, a way that has mark scratching the back of his head nervously and looking away from him, his eyes wandering around the room as he feels the blood rushing into his cheeks.
it’s so painfully obvious, when donghyuck speaks again, that he’s trying to suppress a laugh.
“how do you know that you’re under the influence of a curse for sure.”
there's a chalice filled with a green liquid on the table to his right, and mark considers for a couple of seconds if he should just grab it and give it a little taste, see if maybe he dies on the spot so that he can save himself from the utter humiliation.
surely donghyuck has this effect on everyone. he must be used to it even, mark can’t be the only one who’s acted like a fool in front of the witch.
“oh, right, sorry, it’s my first time in a, uh, place like this.”
"i can tell,” the witch says, his eyes finally leaving mark’s face. mark spots a smile on donghyuck’s lips when he looks down and pretends to read the report one more time. “so, the curse. how did you know? any dead birds on your window? houseplants rotting? did your bed caught fire?"
"no, god no. i was- someone told me," mark frowns. do people survive if their beds catch fire?
"someone?" donghyuck raises an eyebrow.
here we go.
"there's this, uh, girl. her girlfriend is a witch, the one that cursed me. she found me on social media and texted me to let me know as soon as she found out what her partner did."
"oh. how nice of hers to do that," donghyuck tilts his head and writes a couple of words down on mark’s report before he utters mark’s most dreaded question. "do you have any idea of why would her partner put a curse on you?"
oh, mark doesn’t have an idea, he knows exactly the reason why. it’s not his fault, and jaemin and jeno agreed with him when mark barged into jaemin’s room after he read the message and put together by himself the whole picture, but that doesn’t make the situation any less ugly. if he could turn back time and change his actions he would gladly do so.
"i slept with her. met her at a party, she said she was single so we went back to her apartment. her, uh, girlfriend walked in on us," mark grimaces. casual sex seems harmless and easy until it’s not, but that’s never stopped him. mark can deal with an awkward morning or a broken heart. what he can’t deal with is a fucking curse. "she later told me that she thought her girlfriend was out of town, as if that makes it any better? i mean, she was nice enough to give me a warning because she felt guilty, but she still lied to me about everything else."
she should be the one with a curse , mark thinks, but he doesn’t say it out loud. he likes to think that he’s not that kind of person.
"okay, i see,” donghyuck writes on the report, again, only this time mark catches a glimpse of what it looks like little drawings and symbols instead of words. "seems that we're dealing with a revenge curse,” his lips curl, “these tend to be quite messy.”
“why?” mark asks.
donghyuck chooses this moment to untie his ponytail and run his fingers through his hair.
“revenge usually involves passion, and emotional stability is really important when it comes to casting curses. you need to be able to channel your emotions, like, to mold them into a perfect calibered weapon, if that makes sense to you. i imagine it's difficult to do that if your feelings are all over the place because your girlfriend cheated on you with a cute guy."
donghyuck, mark resolves, is perfectly aware of the way he looks. there’s no way that he’s clueless to what he’s doing as he works his way through his hair with his fingers, untangling the tiny knots that are in his way. the locks of black hair fall gracefully, framing the witch’s face, but he tucks them behind his ears, almost shyly.
"but you can, like, get rid of it, right?" mark asks, in the flattest tone possible.
"oh, yes, of course. once i identify exactly where the core of the curse is located it'll be as easy as plucking a strand of hair." donghyuck smiles, "tell me the details."
"the details about what?"
donghyuck smiles, somehow innocent and evil at the same time.
“the sex?” mark squeaks, slightly thrown off by the explicitness of donghyuck’s request. “in what sense?”
“you said her partner walked in on you."
"well, what did she saw? what were you guys doing at that moment? i need to know."
"why?" mark asks, starting to feel a bit light-headed.
"i told you, so i can locate the curse."
"and when you say locate, what you mean is that…"
"oh, the curse is in your body. it could be in any cell, really, so it would really help me to know everything regarding the situation that prompted the cursing. makes it easier to track it down later," donghyuck explains. "of course if you're not a hundred percent comfortable with sharing that information with me then you don't have to. i can still work on something, but it might be less efficient."
mark would like to scream nonsense, but donghyuck speaks in such a meticulous and professional way that he finds himself believing the witch.
"i trust these people," jaemin had said. and mark trusts jaemin. it should be that simple.
"okay," mark agrees.
besides, talking about sex doesn't really make him uncomfortable –well, it depends on the situation and the person that he's with. so far donghyuck's been nothing but kind, so talking about his experience with him is certainly not a problem. it just makes mark nervous.
donghyuck's eyes widen.
"are you sure you don't mind?"
"i'm sure," mark says with a shy smile, reassuring the other boy. “what do you need to know exactly?”
“were you fucking her or was she fucking you? did you use protection or was it raw?”
mark clears his throat before he speaks again, but he doesn't look at donghyuck when he does, "when her partner walked in she was, uh- she on top of me. we used protection."
"i assume she was riding you?"
"were you completely naked or just partially?"
"completely, i think?" mark furrows his brows as he tries to recall the memory that he's been suppressing for the past two weeks, "no, wait. i had my socks on."
at that donghyuck lets out a chuckle that immediately tries to pass as a cough. mark immediately looks at him, but donghyuck’s the one averting his eyes now.
"is there anything wrong?" mark asks, peeking at donghyuck's scribbles on his report.
"no, everything's fine,“ donghyuck replies, trying to suppress a smile. ”what happened when her partner opened the door?"
mark grimaces at the memory. he had been so absorbed in that moment, with his hands on sungkyung’s hips setting the rhythm and his mouth busy leaving a trail of kisses from her neck down to her chest, that he didn’t notice the presence of the other woman in the room until she started screaming at them.
"well, first off, i've never dressed myself so quickly,“ mark recalls. luckily for him, he had discarded almost all of his clothes on the floor right beside the bed. ”and, um, there was a lot of screaming."
“she screamed at you?”
“she yelled at me and also at her girlfriend. but i mean, i can’t really blame her for that reaction, you know? she didn’t know that i didn’t know,” mark says.
and by all means, he would have been fine if he hadn’t walked out of that apartment with a jinx. sure, mark had been lied to and also put in a very uncomfortable situation that made him feel weird during the next few days -a mix of pointless guilt and frustration,- but he knows that he would have gotten over it in a little while. had it not been for the curse it would all have become nothing but a curious anecdote.
had it not been for the curse you wouldn’t be here and you wouldn’t have met donghyuck either , mark’s mind procures.
"did she touch you? the witch,“ donghyuck asks before mark can entertain his most recent thought.
"she grabbed my jacket from the floor and shoved it against my chest? she didn't touch me directly but-" mark’s eyes widen when he looks back at that moment, when he almost had been pushed out of the room. he did think that it was weird that he could feel how cold her hand was even with all the clothing layers between them, "do you think that's when she put the curse on me?"
donghyuck tilts his head. mark can see the witch’s eyes slowly roaming through his body.
"it isn’t necessary to have direct contact with someone to curse them, but given the circumstances, i’d say it’s very likely that she did something at that moment," donghyuck explains. he puts the pencil and the report down and gets up, urging mark to do the same without having to ask. donghyuck moves until he’s in front of mark, closer than he’s ever been so far, and he holds his right hand up, hovering over mark’s chest. "can i?"
it’s only after donghyuck places his hand on his chest that mark realizes that he didn’t even ask donghyuck what he was going to do. he had trusted a witch just like that.
donghyuck closes his eyes as soon as the palm of his hand makes contact with mark’s hoodie. mark doesn’t miss the chance. he would be a fool if he didn’t use this opportunity to trace donghyuck’s features with his eyes. he would be a fool not to stare at the constellation on his cheek or to admire the faint heart-shape that can be found on donghyuck’s lips.
the boy in front of him can only be described as breath-taking and, witch or not, mark would’ve love to meet donghyuck in a different setting, like at a party at the beach or a club maybe, exchanging glances all night long until one of them would have been brave enough to talk to the other. a few conversations, an invitation to dance, hands-on shoulders and hips. everyone knows how that song goes. mark’s heart does too - oh no -, and it’s picking up its pace, following the tune right under donghyuck’s hand.
breathe, mark, breathe.
mark sees donghyuck furrowing his brows and tilting his head a little. a couple of strands of black hair fall over his face and mark’s fingers itch with the urge to get them tucked behind donghyuck’s ear. it’s an urge he doesn’t get to fight for much longer though, because suddenly donghyuck’s eyes open.
there’s specks of golden in them, a dying glow around his iris that only lasts for a swift moment.
donghyuck lets his hand drop from mark’s chest.
he murmurs something under his breath. mark isn't able to catch any words. also, if donghyuck felt mark’s heart beating like crazy, he doesn’t mention it.
"did you find it?"
“no. i can feel it but the energy is- is a bit off. can i try it one more time?”
donghyuck places his hand on mark’s chest, closing his eyes once again. mark closes his eyes as well, not wanting to risk getting caught staring a third time, but it turns out not seeing donghyuck is almost as dangerous as seeing him. they’re so close mark can feel donghyuck’s breath as if they were about to kiss, and he doesn’t miss the warmth spreading from the palm of his hand over mark’s hoodie.
this time it ends before mark’s heart can sing a love a song.
"not yet, i'm sorry,” donghyuck shakes his head. “it’s just that- something’s out of place. usually i can trace back the curse by having a general understanding what feelings went into it, but this one is… don’t worry, i know what i can do to change that,” there’s an apologetic smile plastered on his lips as he walks towards one of the shelves.
mark follows the witch with his gaze as donghyuck grabs a red candle and puts it on the table, lighting it up through the light touch of his index finger on the candlewick. it takes mark a few seconds to register what happens next but, when he does, the report that he and donghyuck had written on is halfway burnt while donghyuck holds it over the fire so it can be fully consumed by the flames.
donghyuck doesn't speak as the document turns into ashes, which only fuels mark's questions, and he has so many of them. starting from how does any of this relates to his curse? why did donghyuck burn the report that contained all the -apparently precious- details of mark's affair? why isn't he saying anything about it, and why did he pretend not to laugh when mark said that he left his socks on? is it funny to have your socks on during sex? what if it's really cold?
"why did you ask if she fucked me?" mark ends up blurting out.
"oh?" donghyuck waits until the last piece of paper on his hand disappears to look again at mark. there's a faint crimson hue to his cheeks, probably due to the heat from the candle. it's not a bad look on him, mark decides. "i don't like to assume my clients' preferences. pegging is quite popular these days, even among straight men."
"i'm not straight," mark declares for some reason that he's doesn't fully understand.
"never said you were," donghyuck laughs, "but hey, neither am i so i guess that's one thing we got in common."
it's almost funny how those words make mark more nervous than any of the previous intimate questions. these days you never know, and mark doesn't like to judge, so a confirmation like that is very much welcomed.
"why did you burn the report?" mark asks in a poor attempt to start a new conversation.
donghyuck looks at him, then his eyes move to the entrance.
"i didn't burn it, i sent it."
there's a knock on the door, all an act since the person who’s behind it doesn't wait for donghyuck to tell them that it’s okay to come in. ten’s expression is unreadable, but he does raise an eyebrow at donghyuck.
"a memory consent form?” ten asks. mark notices there's a document in his hands. “really?"
"i can feel the curse's energy, but i haven't been able to track its core."
"that's unusual for you. were you distracted? you know a magic resonance requires… a lot of focus."
ten punctuates his words with a teasing remark, so there's no denying it. his smile also conceals a hidden intention behind it. a bait, you could say, laid plain in the open for donghyuck to take.
"it's late. i've been here since 10 am."
"so i'm tired, i want to go home, and this–," donghyuck takes the paper away from ten's hand, "is going to solve our problem here much quicker. i don't want mark to leave this place with the curse still on or with a protective spell that might not be strong enough. that only calls for a bad reputation that neither of us wants."
donghyuck's tone surprises him even though it shouldn't. mark first met donghyuck ten minutes ago so there's no way he is familiar with the way donghyuck's voice can sound in different situations. still, the audacity in his tone doesn't go unnoticed, not for mark and definitely not for the other witch either.
ten raises an eyebrow. he doesn't seem like he's annoyed. quite the opposite, actually, judging by the look on his face when he looks at mark.
"see?" ten smiles, "i told you you were in good hands."
mark doesn't have time to come up with an answer. ten closes the door behind him, leaving mark and donghyuck by themselves in the tiny studio. not that mark would have known what to say anyway. of course he's in good hands. he's in soft, pretty, good hands.
"here," donghyuck hands him the new form.
"what's a memory consent?" mark asks.
"i want to track the curse's energy directly from its source, and for that, i need to visit your memory of the event. it can only be done in certain cases, usually when it hasn't been that long since the event that you're going to visit."
"you do this a lot?"
"yes, it’s part of magic therapy. last time i ended up falling from a cliff," donghyuck grimaces. "not a great memory to relieve, that one."
mark wants to ask about it, but something tells him there's some doctor-patient confidentiality clause at stake, even if the place isn't really a clinic and the witches aren't really doctors.
"why do you need my sign?" he asks instead.
"it's a very intimate procedure. sometimes we see things the patients aren't comfortable with sharing, but since it's a memory they have no control over what they want to include or exclude from it."
so, if donghyuck visits mark's memory, that means, "are you going to see me–?"
"yes." donghyuck doesn't let him finish.
mark can almost feel the blood rushing to his cheeks. so donghyuck visiting his memory means that he's going to see mark having sex. like how– how is it called in porn? voyeur? is he going to be the person awkwardly sitting at the other side of the couch in those shitty videos looking lonely and miserable while the main couple goes all in?
maybe donghyuck won't be physically present in the memory, mark thinks, but a simple glance at the witch tells him that it probably won't be the case.
donghyuck is clearly nervous. he keeps shifting his weight from one leg to the other, keeps playing with his hair, and the tips of his ears match mark's face. it's almost funny to think that this boy is the same that asked mark if he got pegged a moment ago.
so he's not as shameless as he seems, uh?
"remember, if you're not comfortable then you don't have to go through it," donghyuck tells him quickly when their eyes meet. he must have totally misinterpreted the look on mark's face if he thinks that what mark needs is reassurance. "i'll do as many resonances as it takes to find the curse."
but it's 10 pm. it's late, donghyuck said he's tired, said that he wants to go home and, for some reason, mark cares. he cares to the point that he doesn't mind if donghyuck sees him naked and having sex for a couple of minutes. jeno would probably tell him that he's lost his mind, and that he doesn't make good decisions when a pretty boy is involved. jaemin would most likely be on board with it, which is mainly why mark shouldn't do it.
"wouldn't it be invasive for sungkyung?" mark asks in an attempt to find something that the still rational part of his mind can hold on to, "i mean, if you're going to see me then you're going to see her as well."
donghyuck tenses up.
"oh, oh no no. don't worry, that won't happen. there's a way to avoid that, trust me."
this time mark doesn't get alarmed when he realizes that he does. he trusts donghyuck. it could be because donghyuck's been nothing but nice and friendly all this time, always asking if mark was comfortable and offering different options in case he wasn't. it could be because donghyuck said that he wouldn't want mark to walk out of the clinic with the curse still on.
maybe it's even simpler than that. maybe mark trust donghyuck because he wants to.
donghyuck perks up.
"yeah. let's do it."
"okay, let me– wait, first you need to read and sign the memory consent, here," donghyuck hands him the form and a pen. mark reads the whole thing probably quicker than he should, skipping some words and why not, some paragraphs too, and then he adds his sign at the end of it. "thank you. now please take a seat."
mark does, letting himself fall on the same couch he had been sitting on earlier. this time donghyuck takes a seat by his side instead of the armchair which is further away. mark tries not to dwell too much about how close donghyuck is, his thighs almost touching.
"can i touch your face?" donghyuck asks.
mark nods, unable to find his voice for a simple yes, you can . donghyuck smiles, always so reassuring, so sweet, and he places his hands on each side of mark's face. he does it gently, his thumbs barely brushing the tender skin under mark's eyes.
in a different scenario, it could be the prelude of a kiss. they're sitting close, bodies slightly turn so they can face each other comfortably, donghyuck's hands cupping his face. in a different scenario, one of mark's hands would be on donghyuck's nape, to pull him closer, to card his fingers through his hair and pull slightly later on so he could hear the pleasure sounds escaping donghyuck's lips. mark's other hand would be on his waist.
"close your eyes, mark," the witch says, and mark does.
nothing happens at first. the galaxies he can see when behind his eyes have nothing to do with magic, and neither does the rise of the rhythm of his heart.
then, the air changes around him. a gentle breeze arises out of nowhere, surrounding them, and suddenly mark isn’t able to feel the couch beneath him nor donghyuck’s presence. he knows his body isn’t moving but mark feels like he’s falling, falling, falling until it stops and he’s lying on a soft surface.
slowly, mark opens his eyes –something tells him that he must. the first thing he realizes is that he's not in donghyuck's office anymore. he sees white walls instead of black ones, wardrobes instead of bookshelves, a cold fluorescent lamp on the ceiling instead of candle lights. it takes him a moment to grasp that he's back in sungkyun's room, on sungkyung's bed, but with donghyuck straddling his lap.
"i can explain," donghyuck promptly tells him when their eyes meet. he quickly gets off mark and throws him one of the cushions that he finds on the floor so that mark has something to cover himself up with.
because at least donghyuck's still wearing his clothes, unlike mark who's completely naked.
except for his socks, of course.
"yeah, you better?" says mark as he feels his soul leaving his body. he tries to grab the bedsheets but they're all stacked by the end of the mattress so he ends up making use of the cushion donghyuck's thrown at him. it's a small beige pillow with the quote sweet little princess on it. mark tries not to think about it as he places it over his hard cock.
donghyuck clears his throat before he speaks again.
"the only way for us to enter a memory is to take someone else's place in it. there can't be three people in this room because you only remember two, so this," he points to himself, "is how we do it."
what donghyuck is saying makes sense in a way that mark doesn't fully understand, but he was indeed straddling mark's thighs just as he remembers sungkyung doing it. well, maybe not exactly in the same way sungkyung did it, since there is a major difference between the two of them. donghyuck is still wearing his black dungaree with a yellow shirt under, which seems a little out of character if he's taken sungkyung's place in mark's memory, right? she had no clothes on.
"before you ask, i'm not naked because you haven't seen me naked," donghyuck snorts, "you have no memory of it, therefore your consciousness can't materialize it."
"what the fuck? you can read minds now too?"
donghyuck has the decency of turning around so mark doesn't see him laughing.
"i can't. you're just an open book, mark lee. but don't worry, it's cute."
mark flushes -even more, if that's possible- at the compliment. it's funny how donghyuck said it without hesitating yet he doesn't turn back around to see the effect that his words have on mark's face. could it be that his cheeks are painted the same tone of bright red?
"why were you acting all nervous earlier?"
donghyuck keeps his posture, looking out the window. countless raindrops slide down the glass like tears. mark remembers the cold while he sprinted to his car that night.
"what do you mean?"
"before entering my memory. you were, i don't know, but you seemed nervous? you still do."
the witch lowers his head. mark catches his arm dropping down, back to his side, hand far from his mouth. donghyuck had been biting his fingernails.
"i'm not– i don't want you to think that i'm taking any advantage," donghyuck says. when he turns around he looks up, straight at mark. there's a pink hue on his cheeks and determination in his eyes, as well as some mischief in the way he smiles to make his words sound less serious. "this is– i know this is awkward."
it is awkward, that goes without saying, but donghyuck makes it bearable. had donghyuck been any other person mark doesn't think he would have trust them enough to do this.
"why would i think you're taking advantage of me?"
the idea of donghyuck taking advantage of him hasn't crossed mark's mind until this very moment. now that he's there, the only fitting description for that idea seems to be completely ridiculous.
donghyuck takes his time to answer though. he averts mark's eyes altogether, choosing to look through the window once again. for a moment it seems that there are two storms staring at each other.
"i really can't answer that while i'm working," donghyuck echoes a thunder.
they don’t hear the door opening because mark didn’t hear it either when it actually happened. sungkyung isn't on top of mark this time, but the brown-haired girl that looks heartbroken and angry under the doorframe doesn't know it. she's the only real actress in this performance that's mark's memory so she plays his part, and she plays it well.
"what do i do?!" mark asks donghyuck, raising his voice over the set of insults that are being thrown at him.
"it's your memory, do what you did!" comes donghyuck's answer.
weirdly enough, but also not really, mark doesn't have to think too much about what he did that night. once he sets his mind on it it's like his body moves in autopilot, and soon he's reaching for his clothes which are discarded on the floor right beside the bed. it's briefs first, jeans second, belt third, that way he's already semi-presentable. he pauses for a second to look at donghyuck but the witch is looking at sungkyung's girlfriend with an unreadable expression.
“aren’t you supposed to do something?" mark asks as he grabs his shirt from one of the headboard bars.
the screams fade out the moment he crouches down to grab his shoes from under the bed, just as he remembers. sungkyung had managed to get his girlfriend out of the room, although the yelling continued throughout the hallway up until the living room, where mark knows his coat lies peacefully on the carpeted floor. that poor jacket must be witnessing how there's a girl on the verge of crying screaming into the thin air now.
“i’m doing something. i’m observing,” for all the are-you-nervous talk and flushed cheeks earlier donghyuck sounds pretty calmed and serious now. he tilts his head, points at the door and speaks again, "she got her girlfriend out of the room?"
mark looks up from where he's crouched down on the floor tying up his shoes.
"yeah, sungkyung left for a moment, then she came back to tell me that i needed to hurry up."
donghyuck's eyes widen.
"did she touch you?"
"yes, i told you she grabbed my jacket and–"
"sungkyung," donghyuck interrupts him. "not his girlfriend. did sungkyung touch you when she came back to speak with you?"
donghyuck's question, for some unknown reason, feels like a backstab. mark doesn't understand why or how is relevant if sungkyug had a brief physical contact with him when they had been having sex minutes earlier. still, even though the scene won't replay itself right in front of him because donghyuck's taken sungkyung's place, he remembers the blonde girl coming back, wearing only an open shirt along with underwear and a very, very annoyed expression on her face.
"she…" mark frowns at the memory of sungkyung's fumed eyes. she was mad at the situation, not at mark, right? she had no reasons to be mad at him. "she pulled my arm to get me out quickly."
donghyuck closes the distance between them in a couple of steps, grabbing mark's arm with so much more delicacy than how sungkyung did. the moment donghyuck's hand closes around mark's wrist a faint purple glow starts slipping between his fingertips and mark feels a tingle crawling up his arm.
"what?" mark mutters, feeling a bit lightheaded all of a sudden.
donghyuck curses under his breath.
"it's not a revenge curse."
"what are you saying?"
"i'm saying that her girlfriend didn't curse you. sungkyung did."
mark looks up. donghyuck's face is partly illuminated by the purple glow. there's also a light wind that comes out of nowhere that mark can't feel on his own skin caressing donghyuck's black strands of hair, like a summer breeze. he looks magically beautiful and it makes mark's heart sink.
"i don't understand," mark says. it's not a lie, but it's not the truth either. the puzzle pieces are all slowly coming together.
donghyuck speaks again, his words sounding like the end of a lullaby.
“close your eyes, mark.”
“what a bitch.”
“i can’t believe it,” jaemin continues, “first she lies to you about being single, then she cheats on her girlfriend, and then she- what? puts a curse on you so she can feel better about it?”
“i don’t know.”
“did she do it to prove that she didn’t care about you?”
mark shakes his head. it can't be that.
“she didn’t care about me. we didn’t know each other.”
the only way of knowing for sure why sungkyung did it is to confront her about it, which is something that mark isn't going to do. the reason behind it could be very simple. it could also be complicated. if mark can be honest he has no interest in it. donghyuck lifted the curse as soon as they vacated mark's memory, and even though he was able to answer some of mark's questions regarding the magical technicalities, his reaction to it all had been more similar to jaemin's.
“well, yeah but, still," jaemin puts a hand on his shoulder, "she didn’t even give you the heads up, her poor girlfriend did. what a bitch.”
her poor girlfriend. the girl that kept crying at screaming. the girl that shoved mark's jacket into his chest with enough force to hurt. who would have thought that she had already made up for it?
“i- if only i didn’t assume..."
“don’t say that. we all would’ve come up to the same conclusion. i mean, look at that. no icon, generic username, it's cryptic as fuck.”
nscsef. 2 weeks ago
she cursed you. sorry.
no more than four words, a whole story now. mark sighs. despite being free of a curse he doesn't feel satisfied by the ending. something's missing.
jaemin's left hand comes to rest on mark's other shoulder. he starts lazily massaging them to distract him. “at least it’s over, we can go home.”
mark, unlike jaemin, doesn't get immediately inside the car after he opens the door. he turns around to look at the two-story building he thought he would only visit once in his life. the neon purple signs shining even more now that the sun has been long gone. it reminds him of the glow of donghyuck's hand.
that’s all it takes for him to make up his mind.
“you’re not moving, mark,” jaemin tells him from the driver's seat.
“can you-" mark starts, not really knowing how to explain himself, "do you mind waiting here for a moment? i promise i’ll be quick.”
jaemin moves over the gearshift so he can look directly at mark from the passenger seat. the judgemental expression mark is expecting is nowhere to be seen. there's a smirk plastered on jaemin's face instead and mark soon realizes that he doesn't really need to explain himself.
“mark lee, you’re gonna disappoint your grandma. i hope you know that," jaemin tells him, sounding a little bit more pleased with himself than he probably should.
mark laughs nervously under his breath.
jaemin, as usual, is right.
don’t let the demons get you too, mark, his grandmother would say.
but what if that’s exactly what mark wants?
mark still doesn’t trust magic. how could he, when it’s something that can’t be tamed, something timeless and endless, something that only a few people have the privilege -or curse, others would say,- to comprehend.
so, here’s the thing: maybe he doesn’t need to. maybe mark doesn’t understand magic but he understands warm brown eyes and a sweet voice. maybe mark doesn’t understand magic but he understands the impulse of wanting to kiss every mole on someone's cheek, he knows what craving to hold a certain person closer so you can softly push their hair out of his face means.
mark understands all of it, and that's why he runs.
the black doors close behind his back with a thud as he’s welcomed once again by the same eerie hallway and dim lights. there’s no green smoke floating in the air this time, nor does he run past by someone holding a jar full of eyes.
the surprise this time awaits for him as he turns around the corner to follow the stairs that would lead him to the fake parlor.
mark doesn't get to climb more than two steps before a body collides with him, sending them both to the ground in what could have been a much less fortuitous crash. someone's laughing in the distance, and then a door is being closed.
in the middle of the chaos and the muscle pain his eyes land on a bright yellow sweater, and then on brown widened eyes.
"mark!" donghyuck yells, a little louder than he probably intended judging by how he reacts. "fuck, i was– i didn't hurt you did i? i was running and i wasn't looking and ten was telling me that you, uh, that– he was saying some stupid shit as always anyways, are you okay?"
oh, so ten was the one laughing. that kind of makes sense.
"i'm okay, i'm okay," mark gets up quickly and dusts his pants off. there was some pink glittery powder on the floor and it's now all over his jeans. mark could ask, because donghyuck probably has the answer, but it also occurs to him that maybe he doesn't want to know. he offers a hand to the witch. "what about you? i'm sorry too, i wasn't looking either."
"i'm fine," donghyuck takes his hand and gets up. he doesn't seem to mind the pink dust. "that was some bad luck, uh?" he says, completely absentmindedly to his choice of words.
mark lets out a snort immediately. donghyuck looks at him like he doesn't get what's so funny about what he just said. mark wants to grab him by his shoulders and shake him so they can laugh together about it, but he catches the moment the realization dawns on the witch.
"oh my gods," donghyuck's face grows significantly red in seconds even in the poorly illuminated hallway. he punches mark slightly in the arm. it doesn't hurt. "shut up."
mark's smile widens.
"i didn't say anything–"
"you were going to, don't even try to deny it."
"but it's not what you think it is!" mark defends himself, "i was going to say that i wouldn't call it bad luck cause i was looking for you and, well, you're here?"
it's not bad luck. it's not bad luck at all. quite the opposite, actually, mark feels that, if he's reading all the signs the right way, this might be the best thing that's happened to him in a long time.
donghyuck looks pleased with mark's answer.
"i know you were looking for me," he says, a smug grin plastered on his pretty face. mark finds it annoying and endearing at the same time.
"are you sure you can't read minds?"
"you were looking for me and i was looking for you. i think you don't need magic to understand what's going on here."
and yet mark thinks there's some magic in the way they keep exchanging nervous looks, and also in the way donghyuck's face is still a little pink.
"i guess not."
"well then?" donghyuck takes a step closer, "come on, i'm waiting."
mark's eyes fall on donghyuck's lips and his heart starts beating so much faster. he knows donghyuck isn't asking for a kiss but the thought of it finds its home in mark's head. he'd do it slowly, placing one of his hands on the side of donghyuck's face, caressing his cheek, maybe following the trail between his cheek moles with his thumb. mark would tilt donghyuck's head slightly upwards and before leaning in he would rejoice in knowing that someone so beautiful wants to be kissed by him. how would those plump lips feel against his own? would donghyuck taste sweet? would he taste like magic?
"and what exactly are you waiting for?" mark asks instead.
"i'm waiting for you to ask me if i'm free tomorrow so i can say that yes, i am, then you'll ask me if i want to go on a date with you and i'll gladly accept. you'll take me to some restaurant in your neighborhood and we'll have a very pleasant dinner, then a nice walk through the park nearby. then we'll have our first kiss and you'll ask me i want to go back to your apartment. once again i'll say yes and you can imagine the rest, but just so you know we'll have breakfast together in the morning. does it sound good?"
"yes. also, oddly specific?" mark jokes, trying not to sound overly excited about everything that donghyuck has said. it sounds like mark probably owes jaemin an apology for his reticence into coming to this place. maybe he can order take out and pay for both of them tonight as a thank you. it also sounds like mark might be the first person in history to feel glad about getting cursed.
donghyuck laughs, then tilts his head playfully. he makes sure mark's eyes are on him before he speaks again.
"i compensate not being capable of reading minds with being able to see the future."
mark feels lightheaded for a second.
"you're joking," it's his first reaction, but then he feels something completely different from disbelief. he feels peace, for if donghyuck is actually able to see the future that means that everything he's said is going to happen tomorrow it's true.
the restaurant, the walk by the park, the kiss.
"maybe? there's only one way to know."
society has changed a lot. witches are no longer the monsters in children's books and movies, nor are they attempting to ruin every princess' happy ending in fairy tales. in fact, nowadays some witches even get to end up with the prince.
mark knows that all he has to do is ask a question to which he already knows the answer.
"are you free tomorrow?"