His backpack weighs down on him, brick-heavy and almost bursting at the seams.
Minho rolls his shoulders gently, careful to not jostle the contents of the bag as he steps over a crack in the sidewalk, and another, and hops around the kid who’s sat on the stoop of a convenience store, idly spelling fissures into the ground with a practice wand. He doesn’t stop to see the kid’s mother step out of the store to yell at him to fix it, but he sure does hear it as he turns the corner to get onto his street.
These are always his Sunday mornings. An early start (no matter how much the rest of his friends insist it’s for sleeping in, god, Minho, there aren’t any classes on Sunday so why the hell are you awake at six in the morning), a trip downtown to his absolute favourite weekly venture, and just the right amount of people-watching on his way home.
Or, well. Creature-watching too, he figures. It’s not all humans on his block anyway. He’s pretty certain there’s a lamia who’d moved in two doors down about three months ago, but he doesn’t quite want to chance it.
Especially not with what he’s bringing home right now.
The rough pavement under his feet gives way to smoother concrete as he makes his way up the stairs, step by step. Four stories that Minho’s grown far too used to climbing day in and day out. At least it’s only four, really. It could be worse. He could still be staying in the shitty dorm room the university had assigned him before he found this place a year ago.
Minho comes up around the bend of the second floor and raises a hand in greeting to the woman tending to her plants outside. She waves back, and so does the creeping vine that’s curled up around a pole planted in a pot, shaking a happy leaf-tipped tendril in his direction. It sure is in a good mood today. It hasn’t waved back at him in almost two weeks.
Just barely remembering to skip the fourth step as he continues up, he finally makes his way onto his floor, fishing his phone out of his back pocket. His key-charm’s stuck to the back of his case, because he knows he’d lose it otherwise.
He comes to a halt in front of the door, remembering what happened the last time he’d gone in unannounced. Should he? Just… just in case?
He exhales. Yeah, probably.
Minho cups a hand around his mouth, and calls through the door, “I’m coming in!”
He waits three seconds, before pressing the charm up against the sigil on the door. There’s a soft click in response, and he shoves his phone back into his pocket as he pushes the door open cautiously.
“Hey,” Minho calls, poking his head in, “you doing all good in here?”
He scans their little flat, glancing over their spindly bookshelves, the mismatched couch in front of the television, the tiny self-containing fireplace next to the window. No sign of life to be seen.
Then—Minho almost jumps at the sound of something exploding in the furthest bedroom. It’s followed by a cough, and a little thump, like something’s either fallen over, or something’s been hit with a hammer. “Yeah, yeah, m’good,” comes a muffled voice, “it worked.”
Ah. There he is.
Minho sets his backpack on their little dinner-and-study table, propping it up against one of the many ridiculously thick sorcery books his roommate owns, next to his laptop. There’s a water bill and one of Minho’s revision guides pinned under it. “What, giving yourself bronchitis again?”
The door opens, releasing a faint trail of smoke. “For the last time,” Chan says, pushing his goggles up over his forehead, “I didn’t get bronchitis from that.” He doesn’t seem to be very alarmed by the glowing, crimson square of something between his gloved fingers that’s still on fire. “It was from the guy who coughed in my face when he came to pick the spell up.”
“No difference. By the way, is that one of my assignments on the floor?”
“Oh my god.” Chan whips around to peer back into his room, a mess of charred paper, salt circles and chalk runes left behind in the wake of his work. There’s a smoking hammer lying on its side amidst the chaos. “I’m so sorry—swear I’ll spell it back, really.”
“Don’t bother. Just burn it. I probably hated that class anyway. Hey, look at what I found at the farmer’s market.”
“What?” Chan drops his work into a metal box by the door and peels his leather gloves off to come take a look. “Did you bring food? Tell me it’s food. Please. I’m starving.”
“It’s not food!” Minho flips the top of his backpack up, tugging the front down as he beams. “Look.”
Chan’s face goes from curious to exasperated within seconds.
Minho blinks expectantly. “So?”
"Those are dragon eggs," Chan says flatly. "There are dragon eggs in our flat."
"Oh," Minho says, "so they were dragon eggs."
Chan's eye twitches. "Minho," he says, "we can't keep those here."
"Our lease doesn't have a non-magical creature clause,” probably, hopefully, it might actually—but the landlady likes them and definitely can be persuaded to look the other way, “and it's only three of them."
"Only three," Chan repeats, "dude, you do know how big dragons get, right—"
"The lady at the market told me they won't grow bigger than a housecat! Look, it'll be fine, you won't even know they're here."
That’s a complete lie. She hadn’t said a single thing about what they were.
He’d been glancing between a grange display full of massive cheese wheels and a stall set up with hissing flower bouquets before the glimmer of a gemstone had caught his eye. Gemstones, deep sea-greens and ember-reds, surrounding three eggs, each the size of his hand.
“You,” the woman behind the counter had said, beckoning towards him, “come.”
Minho had ambled over, eyes fixed on the eggs. “What are they?”
“Magic,” she’d just said. Which, of course they were. Duh. “Touch them and tell me what you feel.”
Cautiously, he’d stretched his hands out and pressed the tips of his fingers to the shells. When nothing happened, he set both hands against them, and abruptly felt the heat of something unknown, something living within them. “They’re… warm.”
“I see,” she’d replied mysteriously. “Would you like to take them?”
“Me?” Minho had blinked at her. “I don’t think I can afford these.”
“You need not pay for these.”
“You’d give them to me for free? Really?”
"I don't want them to fall into the wrong hands," the woman had told him, voice barely more than a murmur, "and I'm certain that you'd take great care of them, young man. I see it in your spirit, a bright future ahead of you. The golden sun, shining down on you. The sky, open and free above. Let this be both a prophecy and a warning, child. Only if you take care of them with all your heart and soul!"
There’d been a pause.
"Okay," Minho had said. “Can I just put them in my bag? They won’t break, right? Thanks.”
It’d been that simple.
“A woman you don’t know gave you three dragon eggs for free,” Chan eventually says, one hand over his eyes. “And gave you a warning.”
“And a prophecy,” Minho says, “but those aren’t really real, right?”
A myriad of emotions flits across Chan’s face. “My family still believes in them,” he admits, wringing his hands, “so, I dunno, they could be? I don’t know. C’mon, you know I’m not a diviner—ask Seungmin about it.”
“I think he still has my number blocked after the last time I called to ask him what my next exam paper would be on. But, seriously,” Minho insists, “things are going to be perfectly fine. Trust me.”
Chan doesn’t look convinced. “Sure,” he says, stepping back into his room, “alright.”
Honestly. He worries too much, Chan does. It’s just a bunch of eggs.
What could happen, anyway?
“Do they do anything yet?”
“Stop it—stop poking them!” Minho swats Hyunjin’s far-too inquisitive hand away. “Of course they don’t do anything. They’re eggs, idiot.”
“Chan-hyung!” Hyunjin instantly hollers, “Minho’s calling me an idiot again!”
“Stop calling Hyunjin an idiot,” Chan’s voice floats in dutifully from the kitchen where he’s getting drinks out of their fridge. “You’re already way past your quota for the month.”
“Oh no,” Felix deadpans, “how ever will he survive.”
Minho makes to pinch the tip of Felix’s pointed ear, and Felix swiftly ducks and bounces away, just as light-footed as ever. “I shouldn’t have asked any of you to come over,” Minho says, “except Jisung.”
Jisung doesn’t glance up from where he’s crouched by the table, his hands folded over the edges as he says with all the awe in the world, “Dude. You could make some massive omelettes outta these things.”
“I take it back.”
“I mean,” Chan says, returning to the table, a litre bottle of Coke in his hands and a stack of mugs floating beside him, “he’s kinda right. Have you ever seen ostrich eggs? You crack ‘em and the yolk’s like, this big—”
“Yeah, alright, this is the last time any of you are ever seeing them.”
“Kidding, man. We’re not gonna eat your little rock babies.” Jisung grins up at him, holding a hand out for the mug that zips over to him when Chan whistles in his direction. “They’re too pretty. Might steal them, though.”
“I’ll gut you like the carp you should’ve been reincarnated as.”
“Not stealing. Not me.”
Felix finally pads back over, peering over Chan’s shoulder. “They’re not gonna be rock babies forever, are they?”
Minho’s not entirely certain, to be fair. He’s spent the last week Googling the hell out of dragons and baby dragons and everything under the sun that he can find about how to hatch them, how to raise them. There’d been a couple of useful bestiaries, a Facebook group full of weird dragon people whom Minho doesn’t think have ever actually met a dragon (and he hopes they never do), and a Reddit sub for dragonkeepers, but all of them had just come back with the same advice:
Keep them safe and warm, and maybe you’ll get dragons in the end.
It’s the reason all three of them are currently sat in the largest frying pan that they own and set on a little table in front of their fireplace. Minho hadn’t quite wanted to chance sticking them right in the fire. This should be alright. He thinks. He hopes.
It’ll be fine.
“They’ll hatch,” Minho says confidently, “I know they will.”
“What, is your magic telling you they will? Or is it just another one of those infamous Lee Minho hunches?”
“I wish my magic would,” Minho says, making a face. It’s not much, to be fair—approximately 70% of the world’s population has some sort of magic that acts more like a boost than any actual useful ability. Most of the time, it’s completely luck-based. A little less My Hero Academia and a little more… mundane. “I think it only works if the animals are actually… alive, y’know.”
“Big oof,” Felix says sympathetically. “Guess we’ll have to wait to see then.”
“It’d be easier if they didn’t hatch,” Chan mumbles, idly rubbing over a scorch mark on the table. “They’re gonna be nothing but trouble.”
Minho doesn’t reply. Chan’s said the same thing approximately ten times since he’d acquired the eggs, and as much as he knows Chan’s just coming out of a place of concern, he’s getting ridiculous about it.
“Anyway!” Hyunjin says, slinging an arm around Jisung’s shoulders, “are we all meeting for lunch on Saturday? I gotta call Changbin and get him to slot me in for a touch-up after, so don’t fuckin’ cancel like the last time!”
“Not my fault!” Chan says, putting his hands up. One of his sleeves falls, just barely revealing the edges of the black symbols inked into his wrist. “That one was on Jisung.”
“Hey, hey! Did I ask to get chased down by a bear that day?”
“You pickpocketed him and told him to have a ‘beary good day’ after he noticed it was gone.”
“Okay, yeah, fine—he had the latest Apple Watch. I have a compulsion. Sue me.”
“Saturday,” Felix says firmly, steering the other two towards the door. “See you all there!”
Minho puts a hand up in farewell, watching them trip out the door. The three of them are as chaotic as it comes, but he wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world.
Chan’s looking at them just as fondly as Minho feels. Not that Minho’d ever let it show the same way (he has a reputation to keep). “Idiots,” he says affectionately.
“Hey,” Minho says. “My line.”
“You’re over quota. I’m not.” Chan laughs. “Anyway. You might want to turn the heat up on the fireplace later. The temperature’s going to drop tonight.”
Minho blinks. “You’ve been checking the weather?”
“I—no,” Chan says, busying himself with cleaning up, “I just… noticed it, s’all. Nothing major.”
“Okay,” Minho says slowly. “Thanks for the heads up.”
“And—by the way,” Chan suddenly says, glancing up at him, “I think… you might not want to write your magic off so quick. I mean. You’ve never tried hatching anything, have you? It could be legit, that feeling you had.”
“I guess,” Minho says, “but my testing certificate just says ‘good with animals,’ not… good with attempting to birth animal babies from lukewarm rocks.”
“It’s vague enough,” Chan says, shrugging. “You never know.”
He could be right.
Minho had been five, and had stood at the edge of a pond in the rain, his little poncho tucked around himself as he poked at the surface of the water. His parents had discovered him five minutes later, surrounded by a dozen toads and getting the tip of his finger nibbled at by a curious turtle. He’d spent his school years making friends with every stray cat and dog he passed in the street, and took part-time jobs at pet shops because birds loved letting him groom them and lost hamsters always came back to him.
It’s not the most useful ability in the world, but Minho’s made it his own. As much as he’ll always be a bit envious of Hyunjin’s (never spraining or fracturing anything ever, even after the most incredible falls) for the fact that they’re both dancers, he likes the way he is. If even Jisung can get by not having any magic at all, then, who’s he to complain?
Besides. He’s got Chan around. Chan, who’d been born into a family of elementals and has more natural magic in his pinky finger than most people have in their entire bodies.
Way more useful to get him to do things than actually do it himself, y’know. Roommate perks.
“Hey,” Minho asks later that night as he’s brushing soot off the eggs with a toothbrush, “do you still have any spare warming spells I can buy off you? In case I gotta bring them somewhere with me.”
Chan disappears into his room, and returns moments later with a piece of cloth no bigger than the palm of his hand, a tiny glowing array inscribed onto one side. “You don’t have to pay for it, dude,” he says, handing it to Minho, who tucks it into his pocket for safekeeping, “you know you can just ask me for stuff.”
“I’m not gonna ask you for stuff for the eggs you don’t even like having around.”
Chan lets out a breath. “M’not that terrible,” he mumbles, looking ashamed. “They’re still yours. I’d still do it.”
“Let me buy you breakfast tomorrow at least,” Minho says, feeling a bit twisted up by the look on Chan’s face, “I know it takes a lot out of you to make these things in the first place.” He’s more than familiar with the way Chan works himself to the bone to keep himself afloat with studying music and selling spells on the side for the bit of extra cash, all at the same time. And, when it comes to actually creating the spells—Chan had explained it to him one night, both of them fresh into becoming flatmates, just starting to get to know each other. How he’s essentially taking a bit of his magic out of himself, imbuing it into something else, and making sure that it stays.
Explains why he’s always hungry, at least, with the constant energy depletion. Still doesn’t explain why he never ever sleeps, even when he’s tired.
Some things just can’t be explained. Even with magic.
“I mean,” Chan says, “It’s extra stock. But I’m not gonna turn down free food.”
The corner of Minho’s mouth quirks up. “Of course you won’t,” he says. “Two sausage and egg McMuffins, five hashbrowns on the side—and the mozarella sticks you like.”
Chan grins back. “You know it,” he says, before leaving Minho to it again.
Minho turns back to the eggs, and continues gently scrubbing at the side of one of the shells with the soft-bristled toothbrush. Still no sign of life, even though he hasn’t moved them from the pan since the day he got them. He wonders how long they’ll take to come around.
Them, and Chan.
Maybe he’ll come around eventually too, Minho figures. Just maybe.
He doesn’t practice at home often, but it’s been raining more often than not, and Minho would rather make do with the limited space of his flat than traverse across the city and end up getting completely soaked just to spend a couple of hours at one of the practice rooms on campus. Sure, he could use a no-stick-rain charm, but those things are expensive and he’s saving up as much as he can for the extra mouths he might end up having to feed soon.
Chan’s draped across one of the beanbags in the corner, MacBook in his lap. From where Minho’s standing, all he can see is Chan’s feet hanging off the back of the beanbag, and a tuft of Chan’s violet hair behind his cable-covered laptop. He never minds when Minho has to practice in the flat (“You’re always putting up with me doing magic,” he’d said, “and I like watching you dance, so. It’s no big deal”) and tonight’s no different.
The music’s a steady rhythm that he moves to, lithe and familiar. He’s practiced this song a hundred times over, but it’ll never be enough. He’ll practice it until it plays behind his eyes in his sleep.
A soft hum comes from the corner Chan’s in, idle yet perfectly in harmony. He’s definitely heard this track too many times to count too, no thanks to Minho.
With the rain, the music, the sound of Minho’s feet against the floor and Chan’s quiet humming, he almost doesn’t hear it.
But he does.
A single, tiny crack.
Minho dives for his phone, shutting off Melon as Chan’s head pops up from behind his laptop. “Did you—” he starts, glancing at Minho.
“—hear that?” Minho stands there, one hand on his phone, listening intently in the direction of the fireplace. Please, he thinks, let tonight be the night, please.
Another crack, far louder than the first.
Minho skids over to the table beside the fireplace, afraid to touch the eggs or the pan or even the table. His heart’s thundering in his chest, nervousness spiking like nothing he’s ever felt before. It’s only been a matter of weeks since he’d gotten them, but it’d felt like forever right up to this moment, waiting for them to hatch. Now—now it feels like everything’s happening too fast, everything’s happening all at once. He doesn’t know what to do besides stare as more tiny cracks, silvery like the web of a spider, appear on the egg closest to him.
“C’mon,” Minho says, “you can do this.”
The egg rattles feebly. It’s amazing seeing it move for the first time. Minho can’t tear his eyes away.
Behind him, he hears the soft click of Chan’s laptop being shut and placed on the floor. “Woah,” comes Chan’s voice, a little awed. “It’s actually happening.”
One of the cracks grows larger. Something’s beating against the inside of the shell, tiny little punches like it’s struggling to get out.
Then, a bit of shell flies off and lands on the table.
Minho holds his breath, moving in close to look through the miniscule hole that’s been broken through the eggshell.
A little eye blinks back at him, and Minho’s entire stomach flips in shocked elation.
That’s a baby.
“Hi,” Minho says, and the egg keeps breaking, “there you go, you got this,” and there are shards flying all over the pan and the table, “you’re almost there,” and then—there it is, amidst fragments of eggshell and sticky goop. A baby dragon barely the size of his hand, claws clattering along the metallic inside of the frying pan, squealing and crying in a tiny little voice that sounds like it should belong to a kitten instead.
Before Minho even has a chance to collect his thoughts, the other two eggs start to tremble and break, and Minho cannot believe they’re all hatching at once. It’s unbelievable.
The second one falls out of its shell, squealing and chirping at Minho just like the very first one. It’s a similar bright orange too, but its snout is slimmer, and the orange gives way to a lighter colouring down its sides.
“Hi,” Minho breathes, “hello, oh, shit—the last one’s having trouble hatching.”
The third dragon seems to be struggling to break through its egg. It beats feebly from the inside, but the cracks don’t seem to be getting big enough. Minho’s panic ratchets up a degree. What if it doesn’t make it?
“Help it,” Chan says. Minho startles, turning his head to find Chan standing behind his shoulder, eyes wide. “You can peel the shell back if it’s having trouble getting out. I read it in a book somewhere.”
“Okay. Okay. Let’s do that.” Minho reaches over the other two, who stare up at his approaching arm with big eyes, and picks at the biggest of the cracked pieces of shell. He flicks that one aside, and starts to peel at the next one. “Almost there. Come on.”
Finally, the third dragon scrambles out from its little prison—but it’s not orange. It’s an ashy grey, a stark difference from its siblings. It’s tinier than the other two, but when Minho draws his hand back, it looks straight at him and gives the loudest cry of the bunch.
And there they are.
Three baby dragons in a frying pan. They have no scales and are all wriggly and covered in gross, unknown fluid and bits of broken shell. They're honestly the ugliest little things he's ever seen in his life.
Minho is in love.
"Hi babies," he coos, stretching his hand out towards them again. One of them nips at his finger experimentally, before squealing. "Aw, are the babies hungry? You want some food?"
“We have dragon food?”
“I bought sheep’s blood and some ground meat from the butcher downtown. They’re in the freezer, behind the chicken breasts.”
“Oh. That’s what those were.”
Minho waits for them to stop sniffing at his finger, before gently rubbing the head of one of them. It makes a tiny clicking noise and leans into his touch. Something like exhilaration fills his chest. Is this what parents feel like when they meet their newborns for the first time?
Chan eyes them warily. "They're smaller than I thought they'd be."
And then, as if on command, all three of them glance over at Chan and start making the same squeals that they’d been making at Minho. Chan stares at them curiously, but doesn’t approach any further. “I’ll go heat up the sheep’s blood,” he says, “since you’re probably gonna want to wipe them off with a towel or something. How do you bathe a baby dragon anyway?”
“Very carefully,” Minho says ominously, thinking about all the advice he’d read online. “Gonna need your heavy-duty gloves for a bit.”
“You can take ‘em.” Chan doesn’t move just yet though. “So. What are you gonna call them?”
Minho blinks, pausing in the middle of petting them. He doesn’t reply, choosing to look at them carefully. They click excitedly at him, trying to claw their way up the side of the frying pan and losing their balance each time. Already ready to start their own adventure. They remind him of the three kittens he’d wanted to foster as a teenager, but hadn’t had the chance to, what with moving to the city on his own to become a dancer.
He knows exactly what he wants to call them.
“This one is Soonie,” he says, pointing at the first orange one, “and this one is Doongie,” motioning to the second hatchling, “and this is Dori,” the littlest, latest one of the litter. “Soonie, Doongie, Dori.”
Chan’s voice is softer. “They’re good names.”
“Thanks.” Minho looks up at him and gives him a smile. “So. Blood?”
“One… bowl? Cup? Coming right up.” Chan shakes his head, padding away to the kitchen. “I can’t imagine what else you’re gonna have to get now that they’re actually hatched and everything.”
“They’re just babies,” Minho says, “it’ll be easy. Food, water, blankets. What else are they gonna need?”
Alright. So, taking care of dragons isn’t the easiest thing in the world, after all. Famous last words. Minho should really know better by now, considering the kind of friends he keeps around (he’s looking very specifically and very intently at one Han Jisung and one Hwang Hyunjin in particular).
They don’t just need food and water and blankets.
They need attention. And they need a lot of it.
“Shh,” Minho says, attempting to grab Dori’s attention with a tiny little piece of meat trapped between the ends of his chopsticks, “don’t cry, you’re just hungry, look, you’re the only one who hasn’t eaten yet.”
Dori wails, tail flicking unhappily. Beside her, Soonie’s curled up smack dab in the middle of a warming spell, and Doongie’s beside her, snout resting on Soonie’s head, her half-lidded eyes watching Minho. All three of them are fussy, cry constantly and demand Minho’s attention at all hours of the day. He’s only just gotten the two older ones to calm down, but Dori—she just won’t stop crying. She’s been crying for almost an entire hour.
Completely out of ideas, Minho set his chopsticks down and wearily scoops Dori up, thinking that maybe he’ll try feeding her as he holds her—but he’s surprised when Dori falls silent the instant he’s got her cupped in both hands.
He stares down as she wriggles about and nuzzles her snout against his fingers, before letting her eyes fall shut. “Oh,” Minho breathes, glancing up at the other two. Is the warming spell not hot enough? Did she just need more body heat?
There’s a knock on the door, and Chan pokes his head around it. “Hey,” he says, “ready to go?”
“Not really.” Minho motions down at his hands, and Chan’s eyebrows shoot up. “They need more heat. The warming spell’s not cutting it—not your fault, I think they just need something hotter.”
Chan steps in, and carefully maneuvres around to where Minho is. “You think they’ll stay asleep for a few hours if they’re warm enough?”
“They should,” Minho guesses. Idly, he strokes over Dori’s left wing with his thumb, and watches her sniffle in her sleep. “You go ahead. Tell the others I can’t make it. Don’t wanna wake her up.”
“Put her back with the others.”
“She’ll start crying again!”
“She won’t, trust me, just put her down again.”
Minho slowly lays Dori down beside the other two dragons, who chirp at her and move closer. Just as Dori’s about to open her mouth and let her little dragon lungs loose again, Chan presses his palm down against the table. The warming spell under them glows and hums. Minho can taste the magic in the air, thick like molasses, warm like gooey, melted honey. Sunshine and the heat of a whistling kettle and the familiar feeling of Chan’s magic, lifting and lilting.
Chan lets go, and the dragons curl up together over the spell sigil in contentment, tails draped over each other. Not a single whine within earshot. “Should last half a day,” he says, words slurring together just the slightest bit.
“You didn’t have to,” Minho says, gratitude meshing together with his surprise. “Shit, you okay?”
“Fine,” Chan says, smiling as he does his usual little hand gesture, thumb and pinky sticking out. “Just need something to eat, now.”
Minho stands, and grabs the sleeve of his sweater with his fingers. “Come on then,” he says, dragging Chan towards the door with a last glance towards the sleeping dragons (they’ll be fine, it’s just for a few hours, they’ll be back soon), “what are you waiting for? Slowpoke.”
Chan just follows along, still smiling.
Much like Sundays belong to the farmer’s market, Saturdays are the same, except they belong to the ragtag group of friends both him and Chan share. It’s been this way ever since they all met in college. Even after Chan had graduated, they’d always made time for this—their weekly meet-up at Shin’s Menu, the cafe they’ve been patronising for the last five years.
Honestly. They should own stock in the place by now. Minho’s almost certain they’ve come in enough to have their names embossed into the table they always claim in the corner.
The door chimes as they walk in, a sliver of something invisible and cold brushing their shoulders in greeting, customary of older buildings with magical security. The owner’s daughter, behind the cashier, waves. She’s used to seeing them come in every week, so much that she remembers all their orders by now.
“You go on,” Minho tells Chan, tugging his wallet out before Chan can insist otherwise, “I’ll pay first.”
He adds an extra sandwich for Chan, just to make up for earlier.
After, Minho makes his way over to their table, where Seungmin and Changbin seem to be engaged in a very furious debate over… mushrooms? Beside them, Jisung’s lazily flipping through a deck of Bicycles as he chats with Hyunjin and Jeongin about something, and Felix has their head bent close to Chan’s, pointing something out on their phone while the two of them speak quietly in English. “Ask him,” Changbin says, motioning towards Minho as he takes his seat, “you ask if he would.”
Seungmin turns to Minho, and then turns back. “Like he’d know!”
“Hey,” Minho says, only partially offended. It’s true. He has no idea what the hell they’re talking about.
“Stop arguing,” Jeongin says, rolling his eyes, “you literally have a fae sitting at the table. Ask them. Aren’t mushrooms their thing?”
“I’m only half-fae, thanks,” Felix says, glancing over. Their eyes shimmer a silvery-blue in the light pouring through the open-glass windows of the cafe. “And, no, they’re not really our thing. Fairy rings are. Different story there.”
“But, would you? Write your phone number on a mushroom?” Changbin presses.
Felix’s eyebrows scrunch together. “Dude. Who the fuck even does that?”
“The girl who gave him a mushroom after he tattooed her,” Seungmin says.
Changbin pulls a king oyster out of his pocket. There’s a phone number and a smiley face etched into the white flesh of its stalk.
“Wow,” Minho says. “I don’t even want to know.”
Chan laughs, resting an arm across the back of Minho’s chair. “It’s fine,” he says easily, “it’s not anything cursed. She’s probably just a collector. Collecting’s only become a thing here recently, I think—it’s pretty big back home, and bits of Europe, too. This is how collectors signal interest.”
“What, you’ve gotten the old call-me-mushroom from a pretty girl before too?”
Chan’s face turns red. “No,” he mumbles, suddenly coy, “the boy from next door used to leave me lily pads that he picked from the local lake. Wrote little messages on them and everything.”
He can imagine it. Shy, teenaged Chan, face getting all pink reading love letters in his room where no one else could see. He must have been cute. He’s still cute now, to be fair. Not that Minho’s noticed. Minho hasn’t noticed at all.
Minho’s definitely not noticing.
“Society has literally progressed past the need for phone numbers on bar napkins,” Jisung declares. “Anyway. Back to this week’s hottest story, literally—dragon babies! Quick, where are they? Why didn’t you bring them along? What are their names?”
“I posted their names on Instagram! You never read the fucking captions.”
“I’ve been busy! I had like, four new illusions to run today. Street busking waits for no man. Or dragon. Or three dragons.”
“More photos, please,” Jeongin says, cutting through, “I wanna see them.”
“You really wanna see more? They’re all he’s been posting,” Hyunjin points out. “’Look at them, they’re my babies, look at them eat, look at them sleep, look at them shit. Hashtag Minho is cute. Hashtag Soon-Doong-Do are cute.’ It’s disgusting.”
“You’re tasteless. You can never have enough cute animals,” Jeongin says, making grabby hands for Minho’s phone. “Give, give.”
"But, anyway,” Changbin says, popping a forkful of eggs into his mouth and chewing. “What the hell kind of name is Soonie? It's so old-fashioned."
Minho glares. “You know how I told you how we use two chopsticks and have two eyes?"
“Changed my mind. It’s a great name. Love it.”
Felix, who obviously hasn’t been paying attention at all, goes, “What are their names again?”
"Soonie, Doongie and Dori."
"There are three of them? I thought there were only two."
"There are three. Dude. I post about them on Instagram all the time."
Felix pauses. "Which one was the orange one again?"
“Right,” Minho says, “friendship over.”
As Felix starts whining to Chan about the unfairness of it all, one of the cafe staff comes over with their orders, giving Jeongin a little smile before she goes. Minho takes advantage of the rest of the table immediately poking fun at Jeongin to slide more food over to Chan. “Eat,” he says, “you need it.”
Chan bumps their shoulders together. “Thanks,” he says, beaming up at Minho. “What would I do without you?”
“Starve and die, apparently.” This close, Minho can see the tiny swirl of flame ever-present in the back of Chan’s eyes. It’s only slightly mesmerising. “Now eat.”
Seungmin slips back into his seat, and Minho figures it’s as good a time as any to ask him about the prophecy from the woman at the farmer’s market. He’d thought about asking her, but since he’d gotten the eggs, he hasn’t been able to find her again at the farmer’s market. No one remembers her being there either. It’s like she never existed.
"So, I was talking to Felix earlier,” Minho says, catching Seungmin’s attention, “you know how I have the three dragons now?"
"You have three? I thought you only had one."
It’s a very, very long pause.
"You thought I only had one?"
"Maybe I should start caring a little more."
"Even Felix knew I had at least two!"
“Great,” Changbin says, “here they go again. Hey, did you want a touch-up on yours? They’re looking a bit faded.”
“Yeah, forgot to call you about that.” Chan rolls his sleeve up to inspect the slowly-rotating cuff of sigils around his wrist. They make Minho’s head spin just to look at. “The intake valve on my power control array’s looking a bit thin.”
“Come in on Tuesday. I’ll do yours after my ten thirty. Got another one coming in for a missing car keys charm.”
“Neat. Thanks.” Chan glances over at Minho, and asks teasingly, “Still no plans to get inked?”
“Get the dragons,” Felix suggests, “the new hire at Changbin’s place does some fuckin’ wicked animated stuff.”
“Yeah, get ‘em over your chest or something,” Hyunjin says, shooting him a lazy grin. “Or on your hip.”
“Oh, a hip tattoo would be so good.”
Minho’s about to scoff, when he sees Chan looking at him, ears just a little redder than usual. “What’s up with you?”
Chan’s eyes flick up to his face. “Um,” he says, “nothing! Nothing. Yeah. Dragons. On your—yeah.” He shoves the rest of his sandwich into his mouth and chews intently, not looking at Minho.
Minho stares at him. “Alright,” he says, “by the way, who’s coming over to see the dragons after this?”
“Me!” the entire table (sans a still-eating Chan) choruses.
“We’re gonna take so many photos,” Hyunjin says excitedly, “Seungmin and I brought our cameras just for this. Just imagine. A whole baby dragon photoshoot.”
“I want all the photos,” Minho says. “Not just the nice ones. All of them.”
“Duh. Who else do you think we’re taking them for?”
They keep talking over their food and drinks for another hour. Minho catches up with how Jeongin’s doing in his final semester of college, finds out that Felix is planning to go back home to Australia for a month to take part in some fae court activity, and spends a good fifteen minutes trading backhanded barbs with Seungmin before Seungmin finally breaks and laughs. It’s relaxed, it’s easy, it’s everything Minho’s quietly grateful for each and every week.
Finally, the group trundles out the door to begin charting the familiar path to the subway. Minho and Chan’s place is only two stops away, the nearest of the lot. It’s why they almost always end up there on Saturday evenings, sprawled out across the floor watching Netflix together or playing boardgames or distracting Chan long enough for Jisung to pick the lock on his ingredients cabinet and filching a very explosive shot of feathered viper venom before he notices the alarms going off.
(“It’s marked corrosive for a reason! You’ll melt your guts. Why didn’t Seungmin stop you?”
“He bet me money I wouldn’t do it.”
“I hate all of you.”
“You love us.”
Today, the other six fall into their flat, chattering incessantly about wanting to see the babies. Minho wonders if they’ve made enough noise to wake them up, and he shushes them before tiptoeing over to his room.
He cracks the door open, glances in, and is met with three pairs of gleaming eyes in the dim light. “Hi,” he calls, and the three of them coo, still sounding a little sleepy. “Want to meet some friends?”
Minho returns to the living room with all three of them carefully held within the fleece lining of a padded jacket. The kids all fall silent the moment they see them, eyes big and wide as they take in the little babies.
“Can we touch them?” Jeongin asks, already reaching a hand out. “I wanna pet them. Can I?”
“Sure,” Minho says, watching Doongie’s jaw stretch with a yawn, showing off the tiniest little teeth. “They bite.”
“Aren’t you supposed to tell us they’re very sweet and really nice and don’t bite?”
“Am I supposed to lie? They’re dragons.” The numerous marks and still-healing scratches all over Minho’s hands are testament to that. “Just be careful.”
Doongie opens one slitted eye, and rears back at Jeongin’s incoming finger, letting out an unholy shriek.
Jeongin jumps back, startled. “Oh,” he says, just a little disapppointed, “I guess it doesn’t like me enough yet.”
“Let me try.” Hyunjin moves close, bending a little to seem less threatening. “Hi there,” he says, holding his hand out, palm up. Doongie still doesn’t let up, tail curled protectively over Soonie as he hisses angrily. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
Another hiss, even angrier this time, from Soonie.
Hyunjin holds his hands up in the air, defeated. “Alright,” he says. “It’s a no for me too, then.”
Minho snickers. Only a couple of weeks old and they’re already learning well. “Who’s next?”
They all give it a shot, but to no avail. Soonie nearly takes Jisung’s finger off, Dori screams louder than a siren when Felix and Changbin say hello, and Seungmin manages to get the closest of all of them, but Doongie whips him in the wrist with his tail just before he can pet him.
“Like father, like kids,” Seungmin mutters, rubbing at his arm.
Minho preens. “They’ll warm up to you all eventually.”
“Chan-hyung hasn’t tried,” Changbin points out. “You’re not gonna try getting your finger bitten like the rest of us? What are we, just entertainment?”
“Rite of passage,” Felix comments, nodding. “You gotta try.”
“Wait, you haven’t pet them yet? But you live with them!”
Chan looks embarrassed. “I,” he starts, “just—wasn’t sure if I should?”
“Give it a go,” Minho says. “No harm. Unless Soonie decides to make a snack out of you.”
“That’s very reassuring, thank you,” Chan says, shaking his head, amused.
Minho watches as Chan approaches, even more cautiously as the others. He hasn’t held his hand out yet, but the dragons have already spotted him moving in, and—
Chan blinks, and brings his hand close.
Soonie sticks her snout out, sniffs at him curiously, and chirps again. Her forked ribbon tongue comes out to lick at his finger, fishing for his scent, and Chan stares as the other two imitate her, wriggling about in the jacket to get close, to bump their own snouts against Chan’s hand. “They like me,” Chan murmurs, disbelieving but delighted all in one. He turns his hand and strokes down Dori’s back, and instead of yelling, she leans into it, tongue flicking in the direction of his sleeve. “Hi there, buddy. You like me too?”
Minho feels just as surprised as the rest of them look. He hadn’t expected them to be this warm towards Chan. Maybe tolerant, sure, with the way they’d treated everyone else and them being complete strangers, but still.
They seem to genuinely like him.
(And maybe… maybe Chan might like them too.)
“It has to be a magic-user thing,” Hyunjin says, “no fair. What the hell. He didn’t even want them here in the first place.”
Soonie lets out a tiny hiss in Hyunjin’s direction, and Hyunjin takes a step back.
“Guess we should’ve figured,” Seungmin says, watching Chan and the dragons keenly. “Of course it’s him.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Minho narrows his eyes. “Thought we said you weren’t allowed to say anything vague anymore after the last divining.”
“I don’t have to divine something this fucking obvious.”
Before Minho can retort, Soonie sneezes, and his attention instantly flies towards the bundle in his arms. “Oh shit—are you cold? Is it too cold out here? It’s okay, come on, back to bed you three go. Say goodbye to your new friends.”
None of the dragons acknowledge the others.
“Good dragons,” Minho says.
“Great,” Changbin says, “now we have four Minhos. Perfect.”
Minho leaves them to talk as he returns the dragons to their bed. Or, nest, according to all the other dragon keepers online. It’s a mess of his own clothing, a couple of soft towels, and the warming spell all stuffed into a box that’s just big enough to hold all three of them comfortably. He’d worried for days if it would be enough, just until he could get something better—but they seem to like it just fine.
He sets them back down, and they immediately crawl over to the middle of the box where the spell is, smacking their little mouths contentedly. For all their fangs and claws and terrible shrieking, they’re adorable.
Minho takes turns stroking down each of their backs before leaving them be again, confident that he’ll have at least another few hours before they start to get hungry again.
More hand-feeding. More of them missing the meat completely and getting Minho’s fingers instead. More Chan making mildly horrified noises from behind his laptop every time Minho holds up a blood-stained hand when he’s done.
Chan. He glances at the sleeping dragons and asks, “You guys gonna win him over eventually, huh?”
No reply from the little snoozers. Minho huffs, and thinks about the way Chan’s face had lit up when they nuzzled at his fingers.
Who knows. Maybe Chan’ll even try to hold them, one day.
(He’s not holding out too much hope, though.)
Doongie nips at his ear.
Minho gently swats at him, and brings his attention back to the screen of his phone, where his mother is looking at him with amusement. “They won’t stop climbing onto my shoulders,” he tells her, feeling Soonie tug at his hair as she clambers up the back of his neck to settle right on top of his head. Dori’s curled up in the arm that’s cradling her to his chest, face hidden in the fold of Minho’s shirt. “They’re like those parakeets the pet shop used to have.”
“They look a little bigger now, compared to the last time you called. Have they been growing well?”
Minho makes an affirmative noise. They’ve grown a lot quicker than he expected. Sure, human babies take forever to stop being babies and these are dragons, he knows, he’s aware—but the dragons are only a month old and he’s gone from being able to hold all three of them in both hands to only being able to fit two of them.
“Let us know if you need anything for them,” his mother says, her voice crackling over the line, “since I’m sending some of your old certificates over for you soon.”
“Okay,” Minho says, just as Doongie begins to attack his earlobe again. “Ow, ow, okay—think I gotta go now. Bye, mom. Thanks.”
“Call again soon, Minho.”
He lets his phone fall to his mattress as Doongie catches Soonie’s tail in his mouth and Soonie screeches and leaps off Minho, tumbling into the sheets and taking Doongie with her, teeth still clamped around the end of her tail. Dori just nuzzles closer into Minho’s chest, unbothered by her siblings playfighting.
Minho scratches her head. “Hungry yet?”
Dori cracks open one slitted eye.
“Figured. Right. Food first, then off we go.”
He’d gotten the email a few days ago. Dear Lee Minho, it’d read, your familiar permit application has been approved. Please print out the attached document and present it to the nearest administration desk to collect your pass within two weeks.
It’s not uncommon to go around the city—or even his university—with familiars, or magical pets. The dragons aren’t quite either of those, but they’re young enough that Minho still isn’t fond of leaving them behind every time he has to head out for the entire day for a class or for practice.
Besides, they’re surprisingly well-behaved enough that Minho doesn’t think he’ll have a hard time making sure they don’t act up in the middle of a lecture.
“Heading out!” he calls in the direction of Chan’s room as he grabs his things from the living room. Jacket, check. Bag, check. Dragons—
Doongie’s claws are firmly dug into his left shoulder, Soonie on his right. Dori’s gotten into his messenger bag already, making tiny snuffling noises as she attempts to figure out what the papery, blocky things in his bag are.
“Okay!” Chan’s voice is muffled against the backdrop of the same steady beat that’s been playing for the last two hours. Whenever he’s not working on spells, he’s working on music. He, Jisung and Changbin are due to drop some mixtape or other next month, so he’s been more focused than usual. “I’ll get dinner!”
Minho hears a tiny rip from the inside of his bag, and winces. “Thanks!”
It goes relatively well. Minho walks through the city, and then through campus, to dozens of stares at the napping dragons curled up on his shoulders. Soonie, with her ever-judgmental stare, eyes all the new faces with trepidation. Doongie is unbothered, choosing to cling to Minho with the faintest of grips, treating him like a swaying hammock to sleep on.
Dori’s the most curious of them all, peeking out of his bag and chittering at everything that passes by. “Yes, that’s a bird,” Minho tells her patiently. “No, you can’t eat it. That’s not a bird, that’s a human child. You can’t eat it either. Now, see that one? That’s an orc. They’ll eat you. Yes. They’ll eat you. They’ll eat you if you keep trying to lick their watch. Sorry—she’s still a baby. She doesn’t understand social distancing yet. Sorry.”
He gets more stares on campus, but in a good way. Dragons aren’t exactly the most common creatures in urban Seoul, and even Minho, who’d grown up around animals his entire life, hadn’t seen a baby dragon until he’d hatched three of them. His Labanotation professor spends a good three minutes asking after them before the lecture starts, and during breaks his classmates ask if they can get a better look.
None of them get to pet the babies, though. That’s reserved for Minho.
Minho—and Chan, whenever he feels like it, apparently.
Chan hasn’t laid a single finger on the dragons since the day the others came over to see them. Minho isn’t sure what’s his deal, really. Does he just not like them? Is he allergic? Probably not, he would’ve mentioned it during his initial crusade to be rid of the eggs. Does he just not care?
Minho doesn’t know.
The only thing that’s stopping him from moving on from the topic is the photos he’d received via Google Drive a few days later, sent by Hyunjin. Hope u like them, he’d messaged, the ones of u & channie-hyung r rly fucking cute too. U shd frame them.
He’d opened the folder, skimmed through the photos of the babies with a big smile, and then paused on the ones nearer to the end.
Minho, holding the dragons in a bundle. Chan, right in front of him, one hand outstretched, fingers frozen over one of the dragons’ backs. Both of them, smiling. Not looking at each other. Just smiling.
It’d been a bad idea to save it. Minho had done it anyway.
He clicks his phone open towards the end of his lecture to find a single message from Chan asking if they’re good to get galbitang for dinner tonight.
Sounds good, Minho replies.
Right before he puts his phone back down, he takes a second glance at the wallpaper he’d set for his and Chan’s KKT messages.
Minho, Chan, the dragons. The both of them, smiling.
He turns his phone off, and tries to pay attention to the lecture again.
Hours later, he’s hauling three very sleepy dragons home in his bag, all his books and his laptop in his arms to give them more cuddle-room. Minho opens the door, toes his boots off, tosses his jacket onto the nearest chair, and then gently places his bag onto the couch where Chan’s taking up half the thing, feet up on the coffee table as he watches some YouTube video. “Watch them for a minute,” Minho tells him, not waiting for an answer as he drags himself to his room to shower and tug something a little less holey on.
Rest in peace to all of his favourite jackets.
The shower helps recentre him after a long day out. It’s not that he’s not a people person. He is. But there’s something about coming home after spending an entire day covered in sunlight and the dust of other humans and creatures. Felix always says it’s because everyone leaves an imprint of themselves in the air wherever they go, and we’re all just constantly stepping into those imprints and taking them with us. We’re all made of each other, Felix’s voice goes in his head as he shuts the water off. The same sort of magic that the planet’s made of.
What’s actually magic is what Minho walks back out to.
The dragons are no longer in the bag. Instead, his bag’s folded over the arm of the couch, and all three dragons are huddled up against Chan’s thigh, snouts poking into his cupped palms. Minho follows their line of sight to see a little flame, blue like a pilot light, hovering within the space of Chan’s hands.
“It’s warm, isn’t it?” Chan’s saying, voice low and soothing in the way it gets sometimes when Minho overhears him video-calling his siblings. “You can come nearer if you want. Here.”
Minho watches him place his palms nearer to them, and Soonie’s scrambling to clamber into his hands, Doongie right on her tail. Dori emits a tiny cry, and Chan’s scooping her up as best as he can too, balancing all three of them in his arms.
The dragons don’t protest a single bit.
“Oh,” Minho says, and Chan’s head snaps up. “I thought you wouldn’t ever hold them.”
Chan’s deer-in-headlights look fades. “They got out of your bag,” he says, and he stretches his fingers out from his right hand, letting the flame grow. It doesn’t burn him, or the dragons. “And then they saw me, and I guess—I guess they just remembered that I made them warm that one time. With the spell. And they thought I could do it again.”
“They were right.”
Chan laughs. “Yeah, well,” he says. “They’re smart. Like their dad,” he adds, in a way that doesn’t sound like it’d been an afterthought.
Dori nips at Chan’s shirt, requiring his attention. Minho comes over to tug her off, and he holds her within his arms. Her favourite place to be. He clicks his tongue at her, and nuzzles her little head with the tip of his nose. When he glances back up, Chan’s staring at him, a funny smile on his face.
Minho ignores the warmth that rises in his chest in favour of asking, “So. What made you change your mind about them?”
Chan looks down at Soonie and Doongie, who keep trying to taste the nice warm bluebell fire that doesn’t seem to have any effect besides keeping them cosy, and just shrugs. “I actually… I really love animals. You know I have a dog at home, right? Berry? Like, I love Berry to bits. But, I had a bad experience with a snake once.”
“Shit,” Minho says. “What happened?”
“Got bitten as a kid. Turned out to be a bit venomous. Just a bit.” Chan lets out a huff of a breath. “Australia’s a bit… yeah. Let’s just say we’ve got a lotta nasty little creatures back there. Anyway, dragons always reminded me of snakes, so I’ve always been a bit hung up over them.” He rubs his thumb along Doongie’s scaly tail, and murmurs, “I didn’t realise they could be like this. Good things.”
Minho hums. “Good things, huh.”
“Mm. They’re terrifying, but sorta cute. Like cats, kinda.” Chan allows Soonie to chew idly on one of his fingers, just watching her with fascination. “They’ve made you happy. You’ve been smiling a lot more, lately.”
“I didn’t realise you’d noticed.” And Minho hadn’t noticed it himself, either.
“Yeah, um, well.” Chan meets his eyes and the corner of his mouth quirks up, one cheek dimpling. “It’s hard to not notice. You’ve got a really nice smile.”
Minho’s heart does something weird and complicated at his words.
“But, yeah,” Chan continues, looking a bit flushed, “they’re good for you, and if they’re good for you then I’m happy. I can live with them.”
“Good,” Minho says, ignoring the thump in his chest that’s gotten just a bit quicker than before, “because they’re here to stay.”
“Good,” Chan echoes, and the fire from his palms dies down. “I’ve got to go back to work. Take ‘em?”
Minho retrieves his other two dragons from Chan’s lap, and watches Chan disappear back into his room for god knows how long. He’s always staying up until the weirdest of hours while Minho goes to bed at eleven-thirty.
But Minho’s not too sure he’ll get much sleep tonight after that.
Soonie flicks her tongue at his cheek, and gives him a questioning coo.
“It’s nothing, baby,” Minho whispers. “It’s just… it’s nothing.”
He starts cataloguing all the dragons’ firsts in a special folder on his phone.
Their first feeding, all the way back from when they’d first hatched. Minho had set his phone up against the wall, aimed in the direction of the dragons, and left the camera running for twenty minutes. Their first trip out and about, marked by a dozen selfies that he’d uploaded to Instagram with the usual #SoonDoongDoAreCute hashtag. Doongie’s first broken claw (clipped against the wall while playing with the ball Minho had bought them), the first time Soonie goes missing (and ends up having just been napping on top of the bookshelf, completely out of view), Dori’s utter confusion the first time she’d seen herself in a mirror (she’d stared for hours until Minho turned the mirror around).
He feels like he’s only had them for a while, but one week turns into two, two weeks turns into a month, a month turns into two, turns into three, turns into four—
And they just keep growing.
The days go by faster than Minho can count. His Instagram feed fills up with photos of them playing, sleeping and eating.
But—it’s not all just of them. Chan starts appearing in a few of the photos, too. At first, he’s in the background, sitting at the table and not paying Minho any mind as he films Dori playing with a donut pillow. Then, he’s just within frame when Soonie’s attempting a jump from their dining table to the couch.
When Chan finally agrees to sit still for a picture, Minho gets a dozen comments on the one of Doongie settled in Chan’s hair, one eye open towards the camera, tail curled over an amused Chan’s ear.
omg <333 look at the scaly babby
Looks so cute sitting on Chris’s head. Btw which one is this one again
doongie I love you
whys only one parent in this photo. i wanna see the whole family together
Below the last one, Chan’s replied, Whaaaat I’m not a parent haha.
u totally are lmao, is Changbin’s latest comment in response.
To be fair, he’s not entirely wrong.
After that night all those months ago, Chan’s been less afraid to handle the dragons. Holding them definitely helped Chan let go of something. Some sort of fear of getting bitten again. It helps that the dragons absolutely adore him. Honestly, Minho can’t believe they even do. The little traitors. They’re supposed to just be his dragons.
But then, he sees the way Chan acts around the dragons now, and something solid and pent-up inside him begins to melt.
Minho isn’t sure what it is. That unrecognisable, fluttery feeling in his throat when Chan helps him feed the dragons, shoulders side by side as he wriggles a pair of chopsticks over their snapping jaws and makes mildly grossed out faces when they chomp down on their food. The way he stops and lets the world move on around him when he sees Chan pick them up in Minho’s stead whenever his hands are too full, attention honing in and focusing on the way Chan’s so gentle with them despite his initial hesitance.
He isn’t sure what it is, but that doesn’t make it go away, especially not when it just keeps happening.
Maybe it’ll go away if he just doesn’t talk about it.
So, one week turns into two, two weeks turns into a month, a month turns into two, turns into three, turns into four—
And Minho returns home one night from practice for a showcase he’s due to perform at in a month's time, barely standing upright on his feet, a bag of jjajangmyeon hanging loosely from his fingertips as he shuts the door. “Hey,” he calls softly. There’s no response, his voice likely not travelling far enough down the narrow hallway.
Minho shuffles in, and pauses right by the shoerack, one hand on the heel of his left sneaker.
On the rug before the fireplace is Chan—but his laptop’s on the table, playing some lo-fi that Minho doesn’t recognise. Chan’s crouched on the floor, on his knees, playing with the dragons who are shrieking at him, bounding about the living room with more energy than a trio of golden retrievers.
The feeling in Minho’s chest tells him to just watch.
Soonie’s nipping at Chan’s sleeve as Doongie and Dori yell their lungs out at him, but Minho can tell they’re not doing anything more than playfighting. Chan seems to know this too, and he presses the tips of his fingers into his right wrist, before lifting the same fingers to the underneath of his jaw. Something glows, and then Chan’s making a little ‘rawr’ noise and breathing harmless blue fire in the direction of the dragons, who cry out and bounce around.
Doongie wiggles his little tail, and squeals, trying to do the same as Chan, but nothing comes out except a little squeak of smoke.
Chan giggles, one hand over his mouth. “So cute,” he says, shaking one fist excitedly.
Minho’s throat feels thick with it, the sudden sharply rising fondness seizing him within its grasp, threatening to not let go.
He steps out of the dimly lit hallway, fights it back, and says, “Hey.”
Chan glances up and beams. “Hey,” he says, eyes flitting to the bag in Minho’s hand, “is that food?”
“I swear,” Minho says, setting his things down at the dining table, “I spend more on feeding both you and the dragons than anything else.”
“It’s because we’re your favourites. Isn’t that right, buds?”
The dragons amble up to Minho, twining around his legs and clambering up the nearest chair to get to him. “Hi, you big babies,” Minho greets, picking Soonie up first. “Did Chan-hyung bully you while I was out?”
“C’mon,” Chan says. “I’m a good babysitter. Dragonsitter? Babydragonsitter?”
Minho snorts. “Don’t think I didn’t see what you were just doing. Now they’re gonna think they can cook their own food.”
Chan lets out a laugh, and there’s the hint of a flame on the fringes of his breath. “Not like they can do it yet,” he says. “They’re still babies anyway. How old are they now? Like, half a year?”
“Six months and two weeks,” Minho says.
“Been a while, huh.” Chan watches Dori nuzzle at Minho’s hand, before trying to stick her entire snout into the bag of takeout. “Almost doesn’t feel like it.”
“It never does.” Minho gently nudges her out of the bag, and lets her clamp her little teeth around his fingers without any bite.
When he glances back at Chan, he’s looking at Minho with something that feels far too familiar. “I’ll go get the plates, then.”
“Thanks,” Minho says, watching him get to his feet with a grunt and padding into their kitchen. Chan stretches up to reach for the biggest bowl in the cupboard, and Minho watches the hem of his shirt ride up at his waist.
It’s suddenly a little warmer than it has any need to be. Time to turn the fireplace down a little.
At least, Minho figures, it’s not the dragons.
(Three weeks later, the dragons actually do start to breathe fire.
Chan very hurriedly fireproofs their entire flat.)
3RACHA drops their mixtape a day before Minho’s showcase.
“How was it? Don’t tell me. Oh god, don’t tell me.” Jisung rolls across the floor, hands over his face. “I don’t wanna know. Actually, I do, I just don’t think I can handle getting brutally destroyed right now—”
“I’m going to step on you if you keep rolling around my practice room like this,” Minho warns.
“Do it anyway,” Hyunjin calls from where he’s laid across the couch, phone in hand as he battles Jeongin in Kartrider. “He’s not the one who has to dance tonight.”
Jisung scampers away, and throws himself onto Jeongin, who nearly drops his phone.
Minho lets out a sigh. “It was good,” he says, and Jisung beams. “You guys are always good. I already told Chan-hyung yesterday.”
Chan, who’d been stressed to the teeth trying to make sure each track lives up to his standards. Chan, who knows that there’s a potential record deal hinging on the success of their mixtape. Chan, who’d spent night after sleepless night perfecting the music in between exhausting himself with magic work.
The music stuff isn’t something Minho’s familiar with, and neither is the magic. It’s not quite anything he could help with even if he wanted to.
But Minho’s spent the last few weeks leaving plates out for Chan, sending the dragons to him to distract him out of funks, restocking the fridge with that plum juice he knows Chan likes. Being there without saying a word.
And yesterday, after the first single dropped, he’d slid a sandwich over to Chan and said, “You did great. Eat.”
Chan had smiled the biggest smile he’s ever seen. “Thanks,” he’d said, “I really appreciate it. Couldn’t have done it without you.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Minho had said, because it was the truth.
“Nah,” Chan had replied. “You did.”
The memory warms him, keeps him on his feet as he runs through his solo programme again. Hyunjin watches him with a keen eye from the couch, gaze following him in the mirrors. His feedback’s better than anyone else’s. Minho always trusts him to tell the truth.
Footsteps, a knock, and the door opens to reveal Chan. “Hey,” he says, “who else needs a ride to the place? Seungmin brought his car. Him and Felix are out by the parking lot.”
Jeongin and Jisung both leap up. Chan motions for them to go ahead.
Minho takes a breather, stretching as he walks over to where Chan is. “You’re not going with them?”
“Waiting on Changbin to come by for me and Hyunjin. Your group coming on time, or should we wait for you?”
“No, you go ahead. Get a good place to sit.”
Chan gives him a thumbs up. “Can’t wait to watch you do your thing,” he says brightly, “you’re always great on stage.”
“Thanks,” Minho says, feeling just a bit embarrassed by the compliment. It’s not new, not by any means, but it’s the way he says it. Genuine, like he means it more than anything. Eyes soft, like Minho’s the only thing in the room.
And later, much later, when Minho’s leaving the stage to a crowd of cheers, the only thing he remembers is the way Chan had looked at him from his seat, like he couldn’t be prouder. Like he’s just as acquainted with the same fondness that’s continued to hold onto Minho’s windpipe for months now, squeezing and squeezing and never letting up.
(Minho doesn’t know if he wants it to let go. Not anymore.)
“Celebration time!” Jisung yells once Minho’s escaped all his other responsibilities and is free to return to the others outside of the venue, “drinks on Changbin!”
“What—no they’re not!”
Minho grins, but his smile slips once he’s counted everyone and noticed the obvious gap. “Where’s Chan-hyung?”
“Went home to get his laptop, he said.” Felix lets out a breath, hands in their pockets. “The guy from the label told him to be on stand-by for something.”
“Unfair,” Changbin mutters, “he shouldn’t have to work on a night out.”
“He meeting us at the bar or what?”
“Yeah, yeah, it’s the one under the bridge—near the centaur park, you know that one?”
He doesn’t, but he follows them there anyway. It’s not too packed, not too loud, just the right amount of fun and cheap. Minho’s only a drink in and hasn’t even danced with anyone yet when Chan finally shows up, backpack slung over his shoulders. “Congrats again!” he calls over the music, “next round on me!”
“Every round’s gonna be on him,” Jeongin says under his breath, nursing a beer, “watch him disappear with the check before anyone’s even left the table, later.”
The prediction rings true once the night comes to an end. Minho and Changbin get the kids bundled off into the cars while Chan not-very-covertly goes to cover the bill. Minho’s waving Seungmin off when Chan comes up to him and says, “Hey.”
“Hey,” Minho says. “We’re walking, right?”
“Yeah, ‘course. As always.”
“You sure?” Changbin frowns. “This area’s kinda sketch.”
“We’ll be good. It’s fine. You guys live in the completely opposite direction anyway.”
“Yeah, alright, but you’d better text the group when you’re back.”
They watch Changbin’s car pull out of the lot and travel down the street before Chan’s tugging Minho along towards the subway. “That was nice,” Chan says, sounding all pleased and light. Minho isn’t sure how many drinks he’d had, but it doesn’t really take much to get Chan on the better side of tipsy. His cheeks are just a little flushed under the moonlight and the glow of the streetlamps lining the road. “You didn’t dance a lot, though.”
“I didn’t,” Minho says, because Chan had been there, and for some ridiculous reason, he’d been absolutely convinced that watching Chan smile into his mug was more fun than being out there on the dancefloor between the bodies of hot strangers. “But it was nice.”
“Yeah,” Chan agrees. “You did great tonight.”
“Say it again, and maybe I’ll remember it this time,” Minho teases.
“You did great,” Chan says without a moment’s hesitation, “your dancing’s amazing, you looked incredible, your stage presence is off the charts—”
“Okay, okay,” Minho says. He feels a bit embarrassed that Chan actually did say it again. That, and more. “I got it. Thanks.”
Chan just laughs softly. “And I thought I was the one who couldn’t take a compliment.”
Minho huffs, and doesn’t say anything, glancing away.
They walk in silence, until Chan’s catching his sleeve between his fingers, and saying, “I meant it, by the way.”
Minho glances back at him.
“You really did look incredible out there,” Chan says, quieter than before. “I couldn’t look anywhere else but at you.”
Minho’s face burns, but he doesn’t look away. “Chan-hyung,” he says, barely a whisper.
Chan doesn’t move back. “Minho,” he says, suddenly seeming so much closer than before—
The temperature drops instantly.
His fingers feel like they’ve been dunked into ice-cold water. The hair at the nape of his neck is standing on end. He’s felt this feeling before, but it’s never been at two in the morning on a deserted street, and not in the middle of summer.
Something else is here.
“Oh, hell,” Chan says, drawing back and turning around just as a light down the street goes out silently. “Let’s go.”
Another light goes out. “Fuck,” Minho says, picking up speed, “when Changbin said it was sketchy out here, I didn’t think…”
“Don’t suppose you brought a lighter out, did you?”
“You mean you brought your entire bag except a lighter?”
“I was distracted!”
One more light, and another. The subway’s still too far away. There aren’t any open stores around either. They pass a row of closed shops, and Minho just barely catches the sign saying, No Loitering! Walkers After Hours.
Walkers. Great. Their luck to come across rabid, flesh-eating monsters in the middle of the goddamn city.
Darkness shatters over them without a single sound before they even reach the corner of the street they’re on. Minho reaches out to grab Chan’s hand, heart pounding in his chest as they take very careful steps across the pavement. The moon barely illuminates anything, just barely catching the outlines of signs and buildings.
Minho glances across the street to see the sign pointing towards the subway, and turns back to find two white eyes staring straight at him.
Fear catches in his lungs. “Fuck, fuck, move—”
It’s too late. Before he knows it, he’s on the ground, and Chan’s cornered against the wall, staring the thing in the face. It looms over Chan, body wilted and bent at horrible angles.
It smells the magic.
Minho scrambles back up and glances at Chan, who’s got his hands away from himself. His expression is pinched, and his mouth’s downturned, bitter and terrified. He can’t do anything to retaliate. Minho knows, he’s heard it enough. He’ll lose his practicing license and get deported if he uses his magic anywhere outside of a permitted setting.
“Fuck,” Minho whispers. And he hadn’t thought to bring anything along—what the fuck kind of good use is magic if they can’t even use it to save their own skins—
There’s a rustle, but no one picks it up besides Minho, who surreptitiously shoots a glance in the direction the sound had come from.
It’s Chan’s backpack, fallen to the ground beside one of his feet. There’s a weird bulge in it that Minho hadn’t noticed before.
Minho stares for a long second, but whips his head back up when the nightwalker begins to reach for Chan. “Wait,” he says, and it turns to look at him, big white eyes hollow in its head, unsettlingly unnatural. It makes Minho’s spine shiver. “Take mine instead. Not him. I won’t fight. Just come here. Take me.”
There’s a pause. Behind its back, Chan’s mouthing, run, what are you doing, just go.
Like Minho ever would.
As the nightwalker begins to turn, the top of Chan’s backpack begins to wriggle. Chan either doesn’t notice or is staying completely still just because he doesn’t want to chance whatever’s happening. “Yeah,” Minho says, “over here.”
Just a little more. A little more.
But—the nightwalker turns back to Chan, who’s still frozen against the wall. No, no, Minho thinks, don’t change your mind now, not now—
Chan’s eyes meet his, and the nightwalker unhinges its jaw.
A shriek, and there’s nothing but fire.
Minho’s arm flies up to cover himself, but he peeks through his fingers to see Soonie with her claws clamped into Chan’s shoulder, having shoved him further back against the wall. The nightwalker makes a terrible noise, staggering away and fleeing into the shadows.
One breath, two, and then Minho’s stumbling over to Chan, who just blinks at him. “Oh,” he says, one hand reaching up for Soonie, who bumps her snout against his fingers. “You were asleep in there the entire time?”
She chitters, as if to say, ‘duh.’
“You little sneak,” Minho says to her, before he’s tugging Chan into a hug. He doesn’t even think twice about it. Chan lets out an ‘oof’ before he’s curling his own arms back around Minho, resting his forehead against his shoulder. His heart is still racing insanely fast. “That… wasn’t fun.”
“We’re never walking back this way again,” Chan mumbles. “Police station?”
“Cops are fucking useless,” Minho scoffs. “I’m calling Changbin.”
“Good plan.” Chan breathes out, not letting go of Minho who tugs him down the road and towards the nearest store with lights still on, which turns out to be a 7/11 about ten minutes away. Minho buys them both Gatorades before they take up the two empty seats by the counter. He calls Changbin to put in a word with the local hunting association, and then texts the group to let them know what’s happened, and that they’re fine. It’s just enough time for his hands to stop shaking.
Soonie’s still sitting on Chan’s shoulders, tail curled protectively over him.
“I’m still really surprised, to be honest.” Chan’s rubbing his finger along Soonie’s head gently. “I didn’t think she’d do that for me. For you, sure. But—I didn’t think she’d like me that much. All of them.” Chan pauses. “And you.”
"Well," Minho says, pointedly choosing to ignore the last part of his sentence, “you were there when all three of them hatched. Maybe they just imprinted on the both of us."
Chan rubs at his face wearily. "I'm too young to become a parent," he says, but it’s in jest. He’s still staring at Soonie with some intense gratefulness that Minho wants to file away and catalogue along with the rest of the dragons’ firsts.
The first time Chan realised they cared for him too.
Minho clears his throat. “I’m younger than you, hag.”
“You’re awful,” Chan says. “Is that how you talk to your co-parent?”
“Yes,” Minho replies instantly, and Chan laughs. It’s good to hear his laugh after the night they’ve had. Minho can’t help his own smile.
“Well,” Chan says, shaking his head. “Guess it’s alright if it’s them.”
“Of course. The dragons can’t let anything happen to their mom, after all,” Minho says teasingly.
“Why am I the mum?”
“Have you seen yourself with them? Or the kids? You’re definitely a soccer mom. You packed Jeongin a bento box before school last week.”
“He wouldn’t have eaten anything otherwise! He’s a growing boy!”
Minho just waits.
Chan lets out a huff of a breath, looking amused. “Okay,” he says. “Fine. I’m everyone’s mum. We can both be mums.” He nudges Minho in the side gently, and adds, “At least I’m not a single parent, huh? I’ve got you with me. And you’ve got me.”
“Of all the people to be stuck with,” Minho says, mock-suffering.
“C’mon. You wouldn’t wanna do this with anyone else, would you?”
Minho looks at him, and he’s just smiling that same smile he always does. Casual, easy, honest.
And Chan’s right. He doesn’t want to do this with anyone else.
No one but Chan, and—
Ah, Minho thinks.
That’s what it is.
It’s been raining more often than not, these days. Summer’s given way to autumn, and the nights have gotten cold again. Minho’s reminded of days long past from almost a year ago, days he’d spent sitting on the rug stoking the fireplace, days he’d spent brushing the soot off three silvery, scaled eggs, days he’d spent wishing and hoping for something to happen.
The rain pitter-patters across the rooftops and beats along the outside walls of the flat. Minho shuts all the windows, draws every curtain, and turns the heat up.
All three of the dragons are curled up on the rug—or, at least, have tried their best to. Almost in a flash, they’ve grown bigger than Minho had expected. No longer the size of house cats, they come up to Minho’s knees, wings almost fully-formed, talons sharp, teeth piercing. No more hiding in backpacks or behind shelves for them.
Yet, they still act just like kittens. Begging for cuddles, needy as ever for their attention.
Minho drops a blanket over the three of them, and watches Soonie immediately tug it over Doongie and Dori, not minding that her own tail’s sticking out of it. “Good girl,” he praises, and she clicks at him, reaching out to snap at his ankles lightly.
Chan’s sat on the couch, hands tucked into the sleeves of his sweater. He’s not the kind to get cold very often, but he likes getting cosy in hoodies sometimes. It’s a good look on him. Minho’s never given himself the chance to look, but now that he’s aware of what this is, what he’s feeling—he lets his eyes linger. Lets himself take in the hint of pink high on Chan’s cheeks, the tuft of hair that sticks out at the nape of his neck like a cowlick, the way his fingers knead at the couch cushions absently as a video plays from his laptop next to him. He’s not paying attention to it.
“The babies are more interesting than whatever you’re watching, huh?”
“Infinitely,” Chan answers, smiling. “Look at ‘em.”
They’re not doing anything but rest on each other and lick at each other’s heads, yet Minho can’t look away either. They’re adorable. They always will be. “Cute.”
“The cutest.” Chan lets out a quiet sigh. “They’re not the only ones.”
Their eyes meet. “Yeah?” Minho asks, the single word traveling across the distance between them, reverberating.
Chan shuts his laptop.
Minho doesn’t move.
There’s a long pause that hangs, and waits, and Minho isn’t sure what it’s waiting for. What he’s waiting for. What are either of them waiting for, really?
Chan stands, and stretches. “M’gonna get water,” he mumbles, and the tension fades. Minho watches him move to place his laptop down on the table before moving into their kitchen. The tap turns on.
Something bumps against his calf, and he glances down to see Doongie staring at him with one eye. “What?” he asks, and Doongie tugs at him until he’s sat on the couch, before hopping up with him. “Want pets?”
Doongie doesn’t stick around for the pets. Instead, he leaps back down to the floor just as Chan returns from the kitchen, wiping at his chin with the back of his hand. “Took my spot,” Chan points out.
Before Minho can respond, Dori’s twining herself around Chan’s legs, and then shoving him in the direction of the couch.
“Woah,” Chan says, stumbling and trying to not step on her, “hey, hold on, wait—” Soonie’s up to, tugging at the hem of his sweatpants. Doongie sweeps his tail under Chan’s feet—
And Minho blinks as Chan trips right into his lap.
“Oh,” Chan says. His hands are on the back of the couch, knees on either side of Minho’s hips. There’s a bit of wetness on his lip from the water. It glistens under the light from the fire as Chan licks his lips. “Minho?”
“Chan-hyung,” Minho says. His hand’s fallen on Chan’s hip. He doesn’t know how it got there.
His finger skims over bare skin.
Chan ducks his head and kisses him, soft and sweet.
The sound of the rain falls away as Minho’s eyes fall shut, kissing back.
It’s warm, and it’s earnest, and it feels like this is it. It’s what they’ve been steadily building towards for a year, for more. The eventuality they’ve been moving towards the entire time. Chan’s lovely, sweet mouth, and Minho’s acknowledged affection.
They part, and Chan smiles, eyes curving.
Before Minho can lean in to kiss him again, there’s a squeal, and suddenly the couch is weighed down by three dragons, clamouring for their attention. “Oh my god,” Minho groans, “go away. Thought you three wanted us to do this.”
Dori trills, shrill and irritating, like she knows something he doesn’t.
“One was enough,” Chan laughs. “Okay, okay. C’mon. Cuddle time.”
Minho tucks two of them close as Chan rearranges himself on the couch, slotting himself neatly against Minho’s side and resting his temple against Minho’s shoulder, one dragon snuggled up in Chan’s own sweater.
It’s good. It’s more than good.
It feels right.
“It’ll be fine.”
“What if they fall?”
“They’re not gonna fall. It’ll be okay. Listen,” Chan says, holding his arms firmly, “they were born to do this. It’s like riding a bike.”
“No one’s born with the innate ability to ride a fucking bicycle.”
“It was a metaphor—look, it’ll be okay. It’s not even that high up.”
“Yes it is!”
“I’m only taking them to the top of the playground.”
“Oh my god, this is the worst,” Hyunjin moans from where he’s being pushed on the swing by Seungmin. “They’re gonna fly off without you if you keep hedging!”
Jisung whoops. “You can do this, scaly babies!”
On cue, all three of them turn to screech at him.
“Yeah!” Jisung calls back, oblivious to their disdain.
“Why are we even here?” Jeongin asks. No one answers. None of them are listening. Not even Felix, who’s somehow managed to get to the top of the swingset, and is hanging upside down with their arms dangling loosely by their sides. “Seriously. I want ice cream.”
“Ice cream on Chan-hyung once we get video of the dragons flying,” Changbin says, pushing himself on the swing beside Hyunjin.
Chan shoots him a despairing look. Minho knows it’ll happen anyway.
“Chop, chop,” Seungmin says. “We’re taking up precious playtime from actual children.”
“They’re children too,” Minho shoots back.
“Then let them go do the thing!”
Minho huffs. “Okay,” he says, and he takes a step back. “Oldest first.”
He watches Chan lead Soonie up the little playground set, and help her get up onto the top. Objectively, it’s not that high up. It’s maybe eight, maybe nine feet off the ground. Subjectively—it’s about eight, nine feet too high.
Minho can barely watch as Chan says something to Soonie, who flaps her little wings, and glances at the rest of them.
Then, Chan nudges her, and she steps off the edge.
Minho’s heart drops.
And then, she’s swooping up over them, wings spread proudly, and Minho’s letting out the breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding. The rest of the group all cheer. Soonie does a little circle in the air, and then not-very-gracefully tumbles to a stop by Minho.
She chirps up at him, and he tugs her close to pet her head. “Good girl,” he says, feeling a mix of pride and joy and relief and everything in between, “clever girl. You did so well. Look at you. You can fly.”
“Next!” Chan calls cheerfully.
They spend the next hour just watching the dragons fly about the playground, eventually stopping to get their promised ice cream. Jisung and Changbin get into a minor slapfight over ice cream flavours, Hyunjin accidentally drops his on Seungmin’s new shoes, and Minho kisses Chan in full view of everyone else when he sits down next to Minho and says that he bought an extra cone for the dragons to share.
“Knew it!” Jeongin’s saying, pointing his finger triumphantly. Felix is making teasing noises in Chan’s direction and saying that they’re definitely going to Snapchat Chan’s sister about this later. Jisung’s just talking over everyone, and it’s the most chaos the group’s ever been. Minho’s never been happier.
But then the dragons keep growing, and growing, and growing.
They don’t stop growing.
They’re only one and a half years old and they’re almost three-quarters of Minho’s height, their wings taking up even more space when they’re unfolded. Each day, Minho wakes up to something accidentally knocked over, or all of them attempting to crowd his bed to no success, or one of them getting stuck in something.
He can tell they’re feeling restless, cramped. Soonie’s been sleeping more often than not, and Doongie’s been more aggressive, and Dori just looks miserable half the time, making the saddest sounds when she can’t climb up things, or fit into little divots she’d previously been able to fit into. He doesn’t know how much bigger they’ll get.
Minho doesn’t know what he’s going to do.
He doesn’t talk about it to Chan, because how does he talk about something like this? Something he can’t fix? He can’t stop them from growing any bigger. There’s no magic that’ll let that happen. Dragons are older than magic, nothing can contain them, all the dragonkeepers say.
Not even a shitty little apartment in the middle of the city.
And then, one night after a dinner that Chan’s been uncharacteristically quiet throughout, Chan says, “I think we need to seriously consider our options. About the dragons.”
Minho sets his phone down, and braces himself. “What kind of options?”
“They can’t fit here any longer. And I was thinking… a dragon reserve might be a good option—”
“Fuck no,” Minho says, “no, I’m not sending them away, what are you saying? That’s—we’re not doing that. No.”
Chan doesn’t budge. “A reserve’s the only place that’s big enough for them.”
“There are places big enough here. A house is big enough.”
“You can’t afford a house.” Chan looks pained. “We can’t afford one.”
“There are places here,” Minho stresses. The anger and the panic collide until he isn’t sure which is which, until he can’t tell which one’s driving the words right out of his mouth. “I’ll find somewhere—I can’t send them away!”
“It’s not going to be good enough—”
“It’ll be fine.”
Chan takes a breath. “Minho,” he says slowly, “we can’t all live in this tiny space like this. I don’t want to have to move out.”
“Come on,” Minho says, pissed beyond measure, “of course you’re saying this. You didn’t want them around in the first place. What do you care.”
"Don't think for a moment it won't hurt me either," Chan says, biting and firm, "because I've been here the entire time, and—I know things didn’t start off well for me, but I love them just as much as you do, alright?"
"If you did, you wouldn't want them to leave!"
"Sometimes," Chan says, "sometimes parents have to let their kids go so that they can have a better life." His voice breaks, and Minho’s heart sinks painfully. "I know better than anyone, okay? You think my parents wanted to let me come here? All on my own? But they did it so I could be happy."
Minho sucks in a rattling breath. "I just want them to be happy too," he whispers, all the anger gone from his frame, and Chan's shoulders drop, before he pads over and tugs Minho into a hug. Minho clutches at him, swallowing back the ache in his chest. "I just want what's best for them."
"I know," Chan murmurs, kissing his temple, "I know."
There's a soft coo, and Minho glances down to find Soonie looking up at him. He clutches her close too, and then Doongie, and Dori, who both amble over for hugs.
Minho holds them all close, all four of them, and hopes that this doesn’t have to come to an end too soon.
The pieces begin to fall into place. Minho gets a contact for the reserve from Jeongin’s older brother. It’s a bit far out from the city, but it’s got great reviews. Minho makes the drive up with Chan one afternoon, and spends the entire day intensely quizzing the dragon tamer that they meet with to be sure, absolutely certain, that he’s leaving his babies in the right hands.
They’ll always be his, no matter where they go.
A couple of days before the dragons are set to leave for the reserve, they invite the others over. “Make a party out of it,” Hyunjin had suggested, the Saturday before. “Give them some good memories of us. If they remember us. They will, right?”
“They will,” Minho had said. “Of course they will.”
There’s cake (minced meat for the dragons, sponge for the rest of them), cider, and a photobook that the rest of the group present to Minho towards the end of the night. The dragons chomp at their dinners and allow the others to pet them and say their goodbyes with minimal fuss and only some biting.
It’s noisy, it’s too much, it’s not enough.
And, later that night, Chan tugs Minho close in his bed, the dragons in a heap on the floor around them, and murmurs, “They’ll be alright.”
Minho doesn’t quite believe it, not until he can see it.
On the morning of, Chan borrows a pickup truck from a friend, and they bundle the dragons up with all their things and set in for the long haul. The reserve is forty minutes out, so it’s not too far, but it’s still almost an entire hour away from where Minho will be.
The trip goes by quicker than Minho would like. He catches sight of the dragons in the rearview mirror, sticking their heads over the sides of the truck to catch the wind, flicking their tongues out, chattering at each other until they get bored and decide to nap in the cool breeze.
He won’t get to see this again for a while.
Levanter Preserve is wide open and sunny, set right on the fringe of Namyangju. Trees span as far as Minho can see, with several structures that must be for the magical creatures on site, along with their caretakers. It’s the same as what he’d seen weeks ago. It feels completely different today, knowing that he’s not going home with the three of them.
“Hi,” the dragon tamer they’d spoken to over the phone greets, taking Minho’s hand, and then Chan’s. “These your fledgelings?”
“Our little ones, yeah,” Chan says, and Minho feels a bit of warmth surge in his chest at the word, our. “Soonie, Doongie, Dori.”
“They seem quite well-behaved.”
Doongie hisses, and the dragon tamer laughs.
“Good boy,” Minho says, the corner of his mouth turning up. “That’s it.”
They’re given some time with the dragons before they’re let loose on their section of the preserve. Chan hangs back to let Minho huddle up close with them, voice low and soothing as they chirp at him and nuzzle at his face, knowing that he’s upset. “It’s fine,” he whispers, giving them kisses on their heads, “you three better be good, okay? We’ll visit you lots. We’ll bring all the snacks you like. You’ll get to do all the flying you want here, doesn’t that sound good? Good. Okay. I love you.”
The dragons trill quietly, like they’re saying it right back to him.
They are. Minho knows they are.
He steps back to let Chan say goodbye too, and Chan pets each of them gently, saying his own quiet words to them. For all that this was, all those months ago, Chan’s been nothing but kind, constant, caring. They’re his, too.
The both of them stand at the gate while the dragon tamer lets down the protective ward around the forested area of the preserve. Minho waves as the dragons cautiously step in, and then, as if called by some higher force, take off into the skies, skimming low over the trees until they’re too far to see anymore.
The wild, beautiful magical creatures they are.
It’s the hardest goodbye Minho’s ever said, but he’s relieved.
He sees it now. He believes it. They’re going to grow up better. They’re going to be happy.
They’re going to be free.
"So," Chan says, some time later when they've settled back into the truck, seatbelts on, "I know we skipped straight from being flatmates to being parents, but I just wanted to ask... if you'd let me court you? Properly? Not just for the kids, but I just... I want to do things right with you."
"Yeah," Minho answers. "I think I'd like that."
Chan’s face lights up, and Minho takes his hand, smiling right back.
“Y’know,” Chan says pensively, “if it weren’t for the dragons, we probably never would’ve had this.”
He’s right. They would’ve just stayed friends, maybe. Chan would’ve moved out, moved back to Sydney even. Minho might’ve dated other people. They never would’ve gotten to know any of this.
Maybe they’ll get to move out one day, move down to the countryside, away from the congestion of urban life. Live with the dragons again.
Until then, he’ll make do.
They’ll make do.
Minho doesn’t even flinch. “Soonie, baby!” he calls, and someone dives for the ground as the trees bend and groan at the weight of a massive, fully-grown dragon leaping through the branches. “Missed you!”
She’s not alone. Seconds later, Doongie’s following after, a little more sedately than she had. And then, Dori swoops in, landing neatly behind Soonie. Minho has to crane his neck to look up at each of them, his grin threatening to split his face.
They’re almost half the height of his and Chan’s old building.
Crazy what two years out of a cramped flat can do.
“Doongie, Dori, hi, babies.” Minho laughs, getting bumped around by their inquisitive snouts. For all they’ve grown, they still think they’re kittens getting rubs on their noses. “Been good?”
Dori roars so loudly that a flock of birds gets disrupted from their perch in a nearby tree.
Minho snorts. “Yeah, alright, you’ve been good.”
Chan helps a dragon-tamer up. “Sorry,” he says, eyes crinkled apologetically. “You know how they get when they see us.”
“None of the other dragons ever do this,” the tamer says, looking a bit sheepish as he dusts dirt off his jeans. “You guys must have had something special.”
"Kids don't forget their parents," Minho says, rubbing Dori's snout. Beside him, Chan is talking in a soft voice to Doongie, who's crouched down low to hear him. "And you three are always gonna my best little babies, aren't you?"
Dori preens and stretches her wings, almost knocking down a feeding pole and two other dragon tamers standing close by.
"Clever girl," Minho says.
Then, Soonie’s prodding at Minho and clawing at the ground, lowering her head to ask if Minho will go for a fly with her. Minho shakes his head, but she doesn’t let up, staring at him with one gleaming, golden eye.
Behind him, Chan tucks his hand into Minho’s, and murmurs, “I promise to hold on tight. You don’t have to open your eyes.”
He’s tried before. Ever since the dragons got big enough to ride, they’ve asked Minho each time he’s come to vist whether he’ll fly with them. They’ve done it with Chan, they’ve even done it with the tamer they’re least likely to eat, but not Minho, not yet.
“Trust me,” Chan says, pressing a kiss to his shoulder. “Trust them.”
Minho exhales. He does.
When Soonie kicks off, the other two right on her heels, Chan’s the one who makes a noise between his teeth—not because he’s scared, but because of the way Minho’s clamped one hand around his arm, his other hand fisted into the grip of the dragon saddle. Minho doesn’t see it happen, but he feels the way his stomach goes weightless when they leave the ground and fly so far up that his eyelids burn with the sting of the air whipping against his face.
“We’re up!” Chan yells, sounding overjoyed. Minho sucks in a breath, and imagines what he must be seeing. He hears Doongie shriek somewhere overhead, and hears the answering call of Dori below. Soongie keeps steady, letting out her own trill like a song.
It’s warm up here despite the wind.
Maybe if he just looked—maybe just for a second—
Maybe he could just try.
Just for the briefest of moments, Minho lets his eyes open to witness the light of the setting sun ahead of them. It reflects off Soonie’s scales, illuminating Chan’s face, his smile.
It’s more than he could have ever imagined.
Seems like that prophecy did come true after all, after all these years.
The golden sun gleaming overhead as they soar across the treetops, joyful and free.