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all of me, all of you

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“Have a good day, hyung,” Wooyoung calls as the exit bell rings, signaling Hongjoong’s departure.

“Bye, hyung!” San shouts from the potion shelves, and the door shuts.

It seems they’ve all managed to accomplish something today: Hongjoong didn’t come fifteen minutes to closing this time, and Wooyoung and San were in completely normal states of dress when he did come. As somebody who firmly believes in celebrating the little things, Wooyoung thinks this should be celebrated.

Also, it’s been two weeks since he started teaching at the studio, and his body is definitely feeling the strain of not having danced for years, and maybe he just wants this weekend to be full of comfort food.

Also also, if they don’t go out for groceries now, they’re going to have to order in for the fourth night in a row, and his bank account’s beginning to cry about it. He did get his first paycheck that morning, but he’d rather spend it on something that could last the whole weekend, not just a night.

Since no one else is around, Wooyoung throws up their shop log into the air, swiping through the menus to mark Hongjoong’s order as successfully fulfilled. It’s the last one in a long string of orders that hit them this week, and it really might’ve driven him or Jongho or both to yanking their hair out if it wasn’t for San’s help—something about the month of October and the spirit of all hallows’ eve apparently made people of all species decide to try potion brewing.

Actually, Wooyoung might’ve been driven to yanking his hair out by the last two weeks in general if not for San. Picking up a second job had seemed like a great idea back when he didn’t know what having two jobs was like, and then reality had quickly reminded him that he really needed to have more foresight.

San has made it all more bearable, though. Mostly, he helps out with the shop, but it’s also the way he’s been sleeping over basically every night and listening to Wooyoung complain and being there for cuddles and putting up with Wooyoung having no time for sex because it’s either oh my god I forgot I have a class today or I’m really sorry but I’m still thinking about that asshole who wanted me to conjure bottle of bogwater in midair. Honestly, if he keeps it up, Wooyoung’s going to start waxing poetic.

“San-ah,” he calls as he swipes the log away and ducks out from the counter. He joins San where he’s restocking the far wall of ingredients, wrapping his arms loosely around his hip from the side. San hums, raising an arm to accommodate him while his tail nudges its way around one of Wooyoung’s knees. “We should close early and go to the store to buy food. Like, irresponsible food.”

San’s head whips over in excitement. “Like gum?” 

“Like gum,” Wooyoung agrees, even though he’s not sure why, of all the ludicrous candies in Seoul, San has fixated on gum. Maybe Hell never had gum? “I was also thinking of a lot of chicken and a really huge ice cream cake.”

“Well, now I’m thinking about them too,” San says slowly. “You’re one of the owners, though, you’re the one who decides if you want to close.”

“I know, but.” Wooyoung pouts a little and wraps his other arm around him in what basically becomes a hug. “You’re basically an honorary third owner now, so you should be part of some decisions.”

San tilts his head. “I just restock the shelves. I’m just an employee.”

Wooyoung opens his mouth, only to think of something and hesitate. “We’re not even paying you,” he says contemplatively.

“I know,” San sighs. “My taxes are going to be really messed up.”

“Oh god, you’re thinking about taxes now. I have to get you away from Jongho,” Wooyoung moans, giving his arm a little tug. “I’ll pay you in cash so there’s no trail, how about that?”

“You sound just like my old boss,” San says warmly, and before Wooyoung can ask if he just compared him to the lord of the underworld, San wraps his arms around him too and says, “You don’t have to pay me, you know I like helping. I’d only accept coins anyway.”

Coins. Wooyoung presses his lips together pensively. “Let me guess. For the gumball machines?”

San nods, very quickly.

Of course. “You’re so cute, it’s really inconvenient,” Wooyoung says by way of warning, before dragging him down for a kiss.

San makes a small noise of surprise against his mouth, but a moment later, there’s a small clunk as he sets down the vial he was holding and smooths an arm around Wooyoung’s waist, pulling him closer. To Wooyoung’s delight, he deepens the kiss, coaxing Wooyoung’s mouth open. “You’re cuter,” San mumbles.

“Can’t start this argument with me. I said it first,” Wooyoung sighs. When he feels San subtly nudging him against the shelves, sending a little thrill down his spine. “Mmh, Sannie, someone’s going to walk in on us again.”

“Okay,” San says.

“Oh my god.” Wooyoung giggles, which probably isn’t good for the scolding he’s trying to give, but what’s he supposed to do? Try to repress it when San is right there? “Is this a bad time to mention what else I was thinking of doing tonight, then?”

“Hmm, no,” San says, like he’s mulling over an executive decision. He leaves Wooyoung’s mouth in favor of ghosting kisses along his jaw, brushing in close to his ear. “Tell me, baby.”

“Well, I was thinking we could finally try...you know.”

“Know what?”

“Try…” Wooyoung lets the words hang, nuzzling against San’s cheek. “Not just my thighs,” he murmurs, hoping that San will understand.

San pulls back, eyes a little wide. “That? Are you sure?” Before Wooyoung can ask him how big he thinks his dick really is, San adds, “You know I like your thighs just fine, right? And I like using my mouth and my fingers on you t—”

“I know, I know, baby. But,” Wooyoung ignores the flaming in his cheeks as he rocks his hips against San’s subtly, “I wanna finally feel you inside, too.”

San groans softly, dropping his head back into his shoulder. “Youngie, you’re gonna kill me.”

Wooyoung can’t help laughing a little again, petting San’s hair sympathetically. “So this is a bad time to bring it up?”

“It’s already up,” San says mournfully. “Might as well.”

“Do you want to?”

“Do I want to. Yes, I want to.”

“Great.” Grinning, Wooyoung pats San’s hands away from him before they accidentally start too early right there. “Dinner first, though. Oh, and shopping before that. I’m going to get you something even better than a gumball machine.”

“I’m not sure what can be better,” San begins, sounding skeptical, and Wooyoung clicks his tongue and leans past him to grab the last potion San had set down. San immediately makes a noise of protest and reaches for it too, saying something about that’s my job! but he really has been doing as much work as a regular employee all week, and Wooyoung hasn’t paid him a single cent.

He successfully holds San at bay and places the vial on the shelf, then turns to him with a grin. “Ta-dah, all done. Now I can prove you wrong.” He hooks his arm around San’s and starts dragging him towards the stairs.

There’s traces of San everywhere in the apartment now too, but most damnably in his bedroom, where his closet’s been half stuffed with San’s clothes that he keeps forgetting to take back with him (San hates clothes) and his drawer’s bursting with the rest of San’s clothes that he doesn’t have enough hangers for (San really hates clothes).

This time, San lets him wrestle him into something suitable for Seoul’s perpetual rain and cooling weather, even a coat. Wooyoung eyes him warily as he tosses him a pair of socks, because although San grumbles the whole time about how clothes make his wings feel stuffy — Wooyoung hasn’t even seen his wings out once, and he’s seen him naked plenty of times — but he doesn’t protest as adamantly as he usually does, which is… Hm. Usually San would be even worse after an impromptu makeout session.

“It’s raining again,” San observes by the window, which is about the equivalent of saying that the Veil is green. “But you don’t have an umbrella.”

Right. The last one was sacrificed to the canals when San spotted a rat stranded on a piece of cardboard floating down the streets of Seoul and their afternoon devolved into a rescue operation.

“We’ll be okay,” Wooyoung says breezily, stretching out his fingers.

“But you’re going to catch a cold,” San protests.

“No I won’t. Come on, trust me.”

He tugs San downstairs, and San opens the door for him and immediately latches onto Wooyoung’s back while Wooyoung locks up the shop, like he’s trying to be his personal umbrella. “You’re going to get a cold,” Wooyoung scolds, tugging him back beneath the awning of the shop.

“Wooyoung, I’m impervious to all forms of human illnesses.”

“That’s hot.” Wooyoung ignores San’s little huff as he raises a hand to the air.

To the untrained hand, the Veil’s intangible and indistinguishable from the particles of air and light, but Wooyoung knows better. He feels where it shifts and ripples like cloth laid out in the sun, can feel the fabric of it, thin and subtle, enough to grasp it between his fingers and tug.

It isn’t as obedient as water — drawing on it feels like pulling taffy in places where it’s stretched particularly taut, but there’s no shortage of matter around The Brew. Wooyoung swipes a hand overhead, and a diaphanous barrier shimmers into existence, an ever-shifting swirl of emerald caught and tempered in stained glass.

“Oh,” San says softly.

Wooyoung glances over, a proud, excited grin working its way into his face. He knows his mother would be appalled by how little he uses his magic now, but in the few occasions he does find a reason to, he’s reminded of why so many humans make pacts and offerings and sacrifices for just a taste of it. 

Maybe he’d been hoping to impress San. Just a little. When he looks over, he finds San’s gaze transfixed on the barrier just as he hoped, but beneath Seoul’s drab, gray sky, he finds that San’s eyes are faintly wet.

“San-ah?” With a small frown, he reaches out for him. San jolts when Wooyoung touches his arm, glancing down at him with a few blinks, like he’s just coming back from someplace else. “Everything okay?” Wooyoung asks hesitantly.

“Oh. Yeah, everything’s okay.” San smiles, but it’s that smile that’s become so familiar by now, the one that isn’t so convincing anymore.

“Does my magic make you uncomfortable?” Wooyoung asks, worried. He’s heard of certain creatures having adverse reactions to certain kinds of magic before, but even without that, maybe San’s had some unpleasant experience with the Veil and Wooyoung just touted it in front of his face.

“No, nothing like that,” San says quickly, slipping an arm around his hip and tugging him closer. “It’s just been a while since I’ve seen Veil magic this close, that’s all. Your magic’s beautiful.”

Something about the way San says it— Wooyoung squeezes his arm a little. “You’re sure that’s it?”

“It’s nothing you need to worry about, Youngie. Promise.” San begins to tug him towards the sidewalk, the barrier moving along with them. “Come on, before the rain gets worse.”

Eyes lingering on the back of San’s head, Wooyoung allows himself to be pulled along.

It’s been a while since the rain has been one of his genuine concerns. For as long as he can remember, Seoul’s been shrouded in rainclouds, drizzling if not pouring outright. There are plenty of videos and images from the older era, before the Earth’s temperatures tipped past the point of no return and the Long Spring began in Seoul, but all he’s ever known is this rain. He would if San’s ever seen Seoul in that before-time, but San always shutters whenever he asks too far back.

They make it to the boat station just a few minutes before the next one arrives. Wooyoung’s seen plenty of pictures of when people used to ride trains underground before the rising water levels claimed them too, but he can’t imagine going that fast, buried under that much earth.

The boats are a lot nicer. The canals are fuller during rush hour, but he manages to snag the two-person seat at the front of the boat for him and San. 

It’s not too far from the store, but apparently San deems it plenty of time to take out the new phone he’s been obsessed with lately and start going through the collection of seventy-year-old Tiktoks he’s amassed over the last twenty-four hours just to show Wooyoung. A good number of them involve little animals, and even though San has clearly seen them a bunch of times already, he still budges up right against Wooyoung’s arm and snickers and giggles all through every video.

Horrifically fond, Wooyoung watches through every single one.

 

- ❦ -

 

At the supermarket, they get a few strange looks for San’s tail darting about, but Wooyoung meets all of their stares until they get uncomfortable and look away. Thankfully it isn’t too busy, but they draw some attention anyway when they both pick up a basket and Wooyoung has to spend five minutes telling San they only need the one while San insists that then they’ll take his one.

In the end, Wooyoung relents, but San insists on carrying the basket until they have to get a cart, at which point he also insists on driving the cart. Then, once they actually start shopping, he also insists on grabbing everything from the shelf that Wooyoung has to lift his arm higher than his chest for, which is— “What are you doing?” he asks exasperatedly when San snatches a bag of veggie straws right in front of Wooyoung’s eyes. San doesn’t even like vegetables.

San blinks, eyes a little wide. “Getting vegetable straws?”

“Really?” Wooyoung says, looking up at him with folded arms. “You don’t even like vegetables.”

“Oh. Well...” San pauses, eyebrows knitting together. “You weren’t about to grab them?”

“I was going to get the shrimp cra—”

San snatches two bags of shrimp crackers and deposits them into the cart too.

“You’re being so weird lately.” Wooyoung clicks his tongue before he takes hold of the side of the cart and starts guiding them down the aisle again, mostly because that’s the only part of the cart San will let him touch. 

“I’m just trying to help,” San protests.

“I know, babe, but I promise I can handle a bag of chips,” Wooyoung says, 

“Those were two bags.”

Wooyoung decides not to acknowledge that as they roll into the beverage aisle. “What else do you want for dinner? Do you want beef too?” Why not? They deserve a fucking feast after what they’ve gone through this week.

“Actually,” San says, and his voice sounds so strange that Wooyoung looks over from the twelve-pack of Pepsi to see what’s wrong, “I was thinking I could cook tonight?”

Wooyoung opens his mouth, then shuts it. It’s not that he distrusts San, it’s that the only and last time he tried to teach San how to cook, he found out that demons were fortunately inflammable. “What’s the occasion?”

“Do I need an occasion?” San cocks his head. “You cook for me all the time.”

Wooyoung gestures vaguely. “I—” Of course he cooks all of the time, San has an appetite similar to a mini black hole, and Wooyoung likes seeing him well-fed and taken care of just like all of his friends. And if he also happens to get to see San look excited whenever he tries something he’s never had before? That’s just a bonus. San’s probably going to turn that around on him though, so he says instead, “It’s a lot cheaper and healthier than going out or ordering in for every meal.”

“Yeah, but—” A concentrated pinch appears between San’s brows, and Wooyoung leans against the cart and waits for him to think it out, mildly amused, mildly concerned. “I want to?”

“Oh.” Wooyoung mulls it over for a moment. “You know Jongho’s staying at Mingi’s for the whole weekend, though? He won’t be here to try it.”

“We could save any leftovers for him?” San offers.

“I guess, but wouldn’t the ones you cook tonight be all stale by Monday?”

“So I’ll just cook tomorrow and Sunday too.”

Wooyoung blinks. “That’s a lot of cooking,” he says pensively. “Also, anything you make tomorrow might still be stale by Monday. You know how horrible the fridge is.”

“Oh. Then maybe we should just eat everything?”

“But then how will Jongho try any of it?”

“Wooyoungie.” San takes his hands, looking very patient and earnest. “I like Jongho, but mostly I want to cook for you.”

Wooyoung opens his mouth to reply before he actually completely processes San’s words, and then whatever his reply was going to be promptly dissolves on his tongue. “Why?” he says intelligently.

“Excuse me, can you just pass me that Sprite, please?” says a passing lady who may or may not have been in that aisle with them for the last ten minutes.

“Oh, yeah, sorry.” Wooyoung momentarily releases San’s hands to reach for the six-pack, only for San to pluck it from the shelf and hand it to her instead.

When she’s gone, Wooyoung looks at him accusingly and repeats, “Why?”

“I just said why,” San says, sounding close to a whine. “I want to.”

“But,” Wooyoung says. “But why?”

“You’ve been working really hard the last few weeks, so you deserve it,” San says, sounding and looking so earnest that Wooyoung is really starting to cave.

“That’s just...normal, though? That’s the amount of work I normally do, Sannie. I really appreciate the thought, but I promise you don’t need to feel like you have to do anything for me for doing what I signed up to do,” Wooyoung tries to tell him, trying to ignore the increasing severity of San’s pout.

“I don’t feel like I have to, I told you I want to.”

“I know, but I feel like this still has something to do with me breaking the pact, which I’ve told you, like, six times by now isn’t anything you have to thank me for, I swear.”

“I really promise I’m not just doing it for that either. I mean, I’m thankful you did that, but I would’ve been fine with staying bound to you too if you didn’t break it. I like you, and I feel like I’m always doing everything in the wrong order, so I’m trying to fix that starting with making you dinner.”

“Bonded to,” Wooyoung corrects absently. “Wait, what?”

San takes his hands again, and Wooyoung feels his tail wrap around the back of his knee too. “Wooyoung, I’m trying to date you.”

Once again, Wooyoung finds himself inadvertently doing his best impression of a goldfish, because San’s looking at him so determinedly like this is a perfectly typical thing to discuss in a grocery store, but then Wooyoung really thinks about it: all the times San has grabbed something off a shelf for him, has opened the door for him, has carried something for him, had tried the one time to hold the umbrella for him. “Wait,” he says weakly. “This whole time— How do you even know that word?”

“I absorbed your common language when I arrived here,” San says, pouting. “And I’ve done it once before, it’s just that back then the word wasn’t ‘dating.’ ‘Courting,’ that’s what it was called then.”

“You’re… You’re trying to court me.”

“Yes,” San says, sounding relieved that he’s finally getting it. “Angel, if you ask me why again, I’m not responsible for what I’ll do.”

“What,” Wooyoung says, “do you even mean by that.”

“I can’t say it or we’ll get kicked out,” San says. “But you can say yes or no.”

“To you...courting me?” Wooyoung pauses, unsure why he feels so—no, there’s no word for how he feels. It’s not bad, because he’d never lie to himself and think he’s not attracted to San, and there’s been this strange feeling in the back of his mind since he first summoned him, all compounded by the way San sometimes looks at him and seems so familiar, so he’s not sure why he feels so— “You don’t have to,” he begins, and San makes a little noise and squeezes his hand.

“Youngie, no one is making me do anything,” he says, and there’s something sad starting to creep into his eyes now. “I want to because I like you, and because I want to treat you like you deserve.”

Strange that something so chaste can make him blush so horribly. Wooyoung wants to question exactly how San came to the conclusion of what he deserves, but he doesn’t like seeing that note of sadness in San’s gaze. “Don’t look sad,” he mumbles, reaching up to cup the side of San’s neck. “I’m not rejecting you, you just surprised me.”

“I don’t feel sad because you might reject me,” San says gently. “You can do that too, it’s fine. But you do deserve to be treated well, you know that, right?”

Wooyoung shifts a little, bringing San’s hands to his chest and squeezing him there. “You can cook dinner,” he says in lieu of an answer, “if you let me help.”

“Can...you help from the couch?”

“Why?”

“So you can relax while you do.”

“You’re so hopeless,” Wooyoung says with a little sigh. “How would I know you’re doing it right?”

“I know how to cook a few things,” San protests. “Jongho’s been showing me a few things while you’ve been teaching at the studio, and he left me a few recipes too.”

Jongho? Jongho’s been showing San how to cook? “I can’t believe you’re plotting with my roommate,” Wooyoung sniffs. “Okay, what if I help from the dining table?”

San looks conflicted, like this is a life-or-death matter and not just a little dinner. It’s honestly starting to look cute, and Wooyoung, despite himself, can’t help the part of him that always crumbles in the face of San being so...San. “As long as you’re sitting,” San finally allows.

“Fine with me,” Wooyoung says immediately. “It’s a deal.” He holds his hand out between them, which isn’t that much of a distance at all because he’s still sandwiched between San and the soda shelves. Oh, there’s someone else at the end of the aisle looking disgruntled and impatient to get to the soda, too.

“Would you say it’s a pact?” San says, wiggling his eyebrows.

“I can’t believe I’m going on a date with the lamest demon ever,” Wooyoung says to no one in particular, hooking his arm around San’s and starting to urge him down the aisle, ignoring San’s snickering as he grabs as few more of Wooyoung’s favorite chips from the shelves.

“You can’t take it back now,” he says smugly.

“I really can’t,” Wooyoung sighs.

God, he can't wait.

 

- ❦ -

 

At home, San steals his apron again—Wooyoung’s favorite green one with the little drowsy-eyed foxes peering out of the pockets—and Wooyoung would be convinced that it’s another one of San’s ways to make sure he doesn’t do any work in the kitchen if he didn’t know just how much San loved it in general, to the point where he wore it even when Wooyoung was the one cooking. San’s cute though, which means that the apron stays with him, even as Wooyoung rolls his sleeves up and starts setting aside the ingredients they’ll need for dinner from the rest of their groceries.

“What happened to sitting?” San says archly, coming up behind him and dipping down to nose along his neck. It tickles, but given how often he does it, Wooyoung’s had plenty of time to get used to it.

“I’m sitting now,” he says, and then plops down at the dining table with the last bag of groceries. San pouts, but he puts away the items they won’t need like Wooyoung tells him to and sets the chopping board on the kitchen island where Wooyoung can see and instruct him. He brings out the recipes that Jongho apparently left him, and Wooyoung’s endeared by how San has somehow procured old-fashioned notecards and a little notecard holder instead of putting them in his phone. Wooyoung choses bulgogi for the beef, because he thinks it’ll be the simplest. San looks none the wiser, maybe even a little puffed up in the chest in anticipation.

The first few steps breeze by. Wooyoung has no problem advising him how to mix the marinade since he already has some minced garlic onhand, but the figurative steam slows when San brings out the green onions.

San doesn’t say anything though, so Wooyoung hums and slips out his phone, scrolling absently through his messages. He glances at San occasionally out of the corner of his eye, enjoying the confused look on San’s face. That’ll teach him.

“Young-ah,” San finally calls.

Wooyoung bites back a triumphant smile and looks up from his phone with a nonchalant, “Hm?”

San is holding the green onion stalks. There are way too many for the serving they’re going to make. “Can you show me how you cut these so fast?”

“I don’t know,” Wooyoung says, flashing him a sad little look. “I’m under seat arrest.”

San narrows his eyes at him. Wooyoung manages to hold off his laughter until San stalks over, kneels down, and hefts him into his arms, because it’s hopeless by then—Wooyoung snickers into his shoulder as San carries him over to the island and sets him down.

“I can’t believe you made me break my pact,” Wooyoung sniffs.

“You’re still sitting,” San says. He bumps his hip against Wooyoung’s knee for attention as he washes his hands. “Show me how to cut this.”

“Okay, okay. First of all, we don’t need that many green onions.” Grinning, Wooyoung shifts a little so he’s angled towards the cutting board, reaching for San’s hands. He guides him into the right position, careful around the knife, and makes the first few cuts with him. “Don’t rush it, but don’t hesitate either,” he explains. “Make sure your nails are always tucked in like this, too, okay? I don’t care what you think about demon invincibility, blood in food is not good.”

“For us,” San says. “For some ancient vampires, it’s the only way they can eat human food.”

Wooyoung glances over, only to find San already turned his way, gaze low on his mouth. Wooyoung sighs in exasperation, because was San even paying attention? “One day I’m going to ask you about exactly how many friends all over the species tree you have,” he tells him. “Show me how you’re gonna cut.”

San does. He goes a little slowly, but his form is good, and Wooyoung swings his legs a little as he watches, unsurprised when he feels San’s tail snake loosely around one of his ankles.

“It’s just Yeosangie for now,” San hums. “You, Hongjoong-hyung. Jongho and Mingi. My other friends…” He pauses, and Wooyoung pauses with him, pushing back all the questions that immediately come to mind. San doesn’t look on the verge of shutting down for once, his expression relaxed as he chops the onions. “I wish you could meet them, but I’m not sure if they’re… where they are.”

When San doesn’t say anything else, Wooyoung asks, “Are they humans?”

He expects San to give him that guarded smile again, but to his surprise, San says softly, “One of them was.”

Oh. Wooyoung’s thought about it before—how old San must be, how many lifetimes he must have seen pass, especially when he talks about the very first witch he was bonded to. Wooyoung can never find the words to describe how San looks when he mentions them, except that he looks melancholy even if he smiles about it.

“Species doesn’t really matter, though,” San continues, his gaze on the chopping board as his hands move in their slow rhythm. “The Veil— It reclaims us all in the end, doesn’t it? And then we’re there, all scattered in it, and we just have to wait for it to gather us up again and shape us into a new life.”

Reincarnation, yes. Wooyoung’s familiar with the beliefs as a Veil witch, but it’s a little more surprising to hear from San. “You believe in reincarnation?”

San hesitates. “It isn’t just reincarnation. But yes, even though I didn’t always,” he replies. “I used to… When I was younger, a lot younger, I didn’t really believe in anything. Is that surprising?”

“Kind of.” Wooyoung watches his face carefully, but this is the most open he’s seen San about it. “I just thought since you’ve seen what happens to souls, you’d sound more confident about what happens after we die.”

“You’re confusing me with the movies again,” San says, glancing at him with a little smile. “I haven’t seen what happens to souls. I don’t even know what a soul looks like.”

“But then what happens when you collect one?”

“I haven’t collected one.” San shrugs, and this surprises Wooyoung again, until he remembers that San had been confused when Wooyoung offered his soul when he first summoned him. “I’ve heard others of my kind describe it differently, though. Most of them say it feels like power, or like a new energy. They all say it’s like having...more. More of something. But no one’s seen or knows what the ‘something’ is, but I never thought it mattered if it all just goes back to the Veil in the end, anyway.”

“But doesn’t it?” 

San looks up at him again, and this time it’s Wooyoung’s turn to shrug.

“Doesn’t it matter the most? If the Veil recollects us all in the end, but it’s possible for someone to...take in someone else’s soul like that, doesn’t it completely change their fate? Would the soul be reborn until the other one is too, or would they be reborn incomplete?”

“If you believe that it wasn’t their fate from the beginning,” San allows.

“For someone’s soul to be fated to be tied to someone else’s, before they even know it?” Wooyoung frowns a little. “I don’t think I believe in fate. Or, I only believe in one—that we all go back to the Veil in the end. Everything else is...choices. Choice and consequence. No, not even consequence, just—choice and effect, you know? I think I’d go crazy if I start to think that everything I’ve done and everything I’ll do is all just according to some blueprint that was already decided billions and billions of years ago. I wanna believe that the choices I make are mine.”

“Even the ones you end up regretting?”

“Well, I haven’t made any I’ve regretted yet,” Wooyoung says easily. “But I see what you mean. Yeah, of course those ones too. The thing about regret’s that you don’t feel it until after you’ve already done it, right? So no one ever knows if they’re choosing something they’ll regret. There aren’t right or wrong decisions, not even good or bad ones, just intentions and consequences.”

The onions are finished. San sections them aside, and he looks up at Wooyoung, and there’s that inexplicable melancholy at the edges of his gaze again. “You’ve thought about this.”

“I have. And no one believes it, but I read too,” Wooyoung says with a thin little smile. “Back when I was trying to understand my magic and our pact, I had a lot of time for a lot of books. You read enough about the Veil, and you start to get existential, and not always in a good way. But I feel like I’m done with the overthinking now. I think I mostly know what I believe.”

“I’m sorry,” San says softly. 

Wooyoung’s smile slips. “Why are you sorry?”

“That our pact ever...helped cause that.” San sets the knife down to wring his hands together, averting his gaze. “I wish I could’ve found you sooner, so you would’ve had less to doubt.”

“Sannie, you don’t have to apologize for that.” Wooyoung slides off the counter to wrap his arms around him, tilting his face slightly in an attempt to get San to look at him. San doesn’t just look melancholy, he looks sad, and there’s something in Wooyoung that aches to smooth it away for him. “It’s one of those things you couldn’t have known. You didn’t even know I was looking, so how were you supposed to know to look, too?”

“But I was,” San says, his voice taking on a new kind of strain. “I was looking. I’ve been looking ever since I first lost you.”

“San.” Wooyoung cups his face with both hands, tilting San’s face towards him, and he doesn’t just find sadness in San’s eyes—there’s guilt there too. “What do you mean? I keep telling you, you’ve never lost me. You only just found me, and I’m still here, aren’t I?” He swallows, because there’s another possibility that had taken root in the back of his mind ever since he summoned San. “Unless you really mean whatever happened between you and my first ancestor, because— because you know that that’s not how it works, don’t you? That even if I was one of their...reincarnations, I’m not really them, I’m me.” The next words are a little harder to get out, but he thinks he’s been hoarding them to himself long enough: “I really like you, San, but if you’re only here because I remind you of them, then I don’t know what to—”

San flinches, taking a step back so suddenly that Wooyoung almost sways into the space he leaves behind. “That’s not it at all,” San croaks. “Wooyoung, I know you aren’t, and that’s not why I—” He cuts himself off tersely, turning to wash his hands in the sink in short, stiff movements. “It’s— It’s complicated, and I don’t know how to explain it, but please believe me when I say I’m here for you and only you.”

“But what makes it so complicated?”

San doesn’t turn around. Wooyoung bites his lip and takes a step forward, coming up to his side.

“Sannie, you know that if we… if we’re going to have anything more, we’re gonna have to talk about it eventually, right?” he asks hesitantly. “Can you... try? And if it really doesn’t make sense, then I’ll tell you, but...try. For me?”

For the longest time, San just stands in front of the sink, not looking at him even when he reaches out to rub a light hand over his arm.

“If you really can’t,” he begins hesitantly, at the same time San asks quietly, “Do you remember the day you called me?”

It isn’t what Wooyoung expects to hear.

San closes his eyes. “The very first day.”

“The day I summoned you?” Wooyoung nods slowly. “I do. Why?”

“You had a summoning circle on the floor,” San says. “But I came from the air. The Veil. Didn’t I?”

The detail, so small and long lost in everything that’s happened since, resurfaces as slowly as San recounts it. The rip, Wooyoung remembers. The blazing ball of blue flames, the way they singed the floor before San took shape. “You did,” Wooyoung agrees, unsure of where he’s going.

“I didn’t just come from Hell. I came from a Hell.”

Wooyoung looks up at him. His head suddenly begins to feel so...crowded, loud, and not just with the questions that suddenly spring to mind at San's insinuation.

“Youngie, I’m not just from a different time. I’m from a different reality.”

The back of his skull throbs. “You're... What?"

“I told you it’s hard to explain,” San says, sounding close to a plea. “But where I come from, I lost you, and I don’t just mean— you didn’t just die, you did something that—something even I don’t understand yet, okay? The only thing I know is that you never returned to the Veil as I know it, and you were never… never reborn, not in my world, so I’ve been looking, I’ve been trying to find you again, but I swear that I never meant to—”

“So the pact,” Wooyoung says, taking a step back as the noise in his head grows louder and louder, almost like a...song? It swirls through his senses, muddying everything, making it hard to think. “If you’re not… Were we ever bonded? Was that your bond to break?”

“It was! We were. Please, can you just let me explain?”

Wooyoung opens his mouth to respond, but then his shoulder, the side where the bonding mark used to be, suddenly erupts into hot, searing pain, whiting out his vision and nearly sending him to the floor. Panic and confusion fill his gut at once as he reaches out instinctively for something to hold onto.

San is there. “Young-ah?” San catches him immediately, wrapping his arms around him before Wooyoung crumples. “Wooyoung, what’s wrong?”

“Hurts,” he whispers, fingers twisting into the fabric of San's shirt, “my shoulder, I don’t know what’s— ah!”

His shoulder throbs again, like someone’s pressing a hot poker to his skin, and his knees give out from underneath him. Luckily San is there, folding him into his arms securely. “I’m taking you to the couch, okay? Youngie, keep talking to me, you’re scaring me.”

Bright spots dance across his vision, nauseating little black spots that obscure almost his entire sight of the living room as San sets him down on something soft. The sofa. Right. “My shoulder,” he grits out, fumbling for the hem of his shirt against San’s hands. “Ch- Check my shoulder.”

He yanks his shirt up his back and over his shoulder, twisting onto his side to leave the inspection up to San because god knows his eyes are useless right now.

“What is it?” he asks desperately.

“I don’t— Young-ah, there’s nothing there.”

Another wave of pain rushes through him, this one the worst of all, and Wooyoung cries out and almost topples off of the couch if not for San’s arm winding around his chest. Despite all of the questions he has for San, the contact is pure relief, like an anchor in a sea of nothing.

“I’ve got you, Wooyoung. I’ve got you, you’re okay.”

How does he know?

Wooyoung’s about to ask when a line in the Veil appears once more. Just like that day he called San, what happens is soundless, with the sign of disturbance being the unnatural ripple in the air and the flash of light in the middle of the living room. Just like that day, the line becomes a rip, and the rip becomes a tear, and suddenly, in a flash of azure blue, another figure is deposited onto the living room floor.

Abruptly, the pain recedes. Once enough of his vision returns, Wooyoung sits up blearily.

“Wooyoung, don’t,” San whispers by his ear, sounding afraid.

Why is he afraid?

“Wooyoung-ah?”

It takes a moment. The voice sounds just like San’s, so Wooyoung is slow to realize that it came from in front of him, not beside him.

He finally blinks his vision clear, and there, sprawled on his floor in blacks and golds, dark hair tousled with a single white stripe, is...San?

San, who sees him too, whose dark, amber eyes flit down to his exposed side. San, who climbs to his feet, a growl rumbling its way out of his throat as he extends a hand and his arm erupts into liquid flames of azure, who takes one look at the one holding Wooyoung and snarls, “Let go of him.”