Title: not quite familiar
by shouga

Tags: Teen And Up Audiences, NCT (Band), Kim Dongyoung | Doyoung/Lee Taeyong, Kim Dongyoung | Doyoung, Lee Taeyong, Suh Youngho | Johnny, Lee Donghyuck | Haechan, Age Regression/De-Aging, Canon Compliant, M/M, No Archive Warnings Apply, Slice of Life

Summary:

Without rhyme or reason, Kim Doyoung is de-aged 4 years.



Notes:

I wrote this in a 2 and a half day long frenzy, and it's so fresh on my mind that I can't judge whether I actually like it or not. Guess time will tell!

Inspired by the recent debates over the question of "5 Doyoungs or 5 year old Doyoung". I thought...wouldn't it be a lot more interesting if he was just a little bit younger?

Enjoy!



End Notes:

twitter


In addition, the line "Outside, the moonlight is so very beautiful, and Taeyong feels frankly a little delirious" is a direct tribute to vmwn's in a world where we endlessly begin. Love you egg!



Published at: 2020-06-10
Revised at: 2020-06-10 09:12:06 -0400

A gentle, summer breeze carries the sound of birdsong through the fifth floor open window. The sun is high overhead, not quite baking the Earth, sweeps across all that light touches upon in a loving caress. The billowing branches of the trees outside boasting their lush emerald leaves cast shadows upon the neighbourhood sidewalk, where occasionally children playing along the empty roads will shout with glee, their light up sneakers slipping against the concrete, soles against ground, loud enough to be heard through Taeyong’s open window in this midday hush.

It’s an absolutely ordinary Sunday noon, and Lee Taeyong is lying in bed, mind wandering off to nowhere in particular when these texts arrive on his phone:

 

>hyung

>help

>something is wrong

Taeyong rubs his eyes, yawns into the quiet room. Wiggles his toes, kicks his blanket a little.

 

>what’s up?

He texts back.

And as he does, Taeyong hears the door at the end of the hall click open. Then, in moments, it clicks closed again. Frantically, someone paces down the hall, footfall heavy, sounding like they are in quite a rush.

Through the wall, Taeyong hears a familiar voice call out.

“Hello?!”

It’s Doyoung’s voice, marked with a note of undeniable panic.

Taeyong’s muscles tense up. Finally gathering his attention back into focus, he climbs out of his own bed, but not without a much needed stretch.

When he peeks out into the hallway, what he sees is a figure standing in the living room—a figure he almost doesn't recognize for a moment.

Well…how should he put it?

That is Doyoung, yes, but…

The height—about the same.

The stiff back—about the same.

The bent head, profile, the blue phone in his hand, that’s definitely Doyoung. He looks approximately the same, a resemblance that only registers to Taeyong as really odd the moment his realizes this person has orange hair. Not black, like it was yesterday, but orange.

Silent on his feet like a cat, Taeyong tentatively approaches, creeping along the shadows to observe this image better.

He rubs his eyes, again.

”…Doyoungie?”

At the sound of his voice, Kim Doyoung looks up from his phone and whips his head around to look at him. His wide, panicked eyes are trained on him.

Taeyong watches some kind of recognition lights up in his eyes—a fleeting look of relief, his shoulders dropping, but then immediately tightening again.

Puzzlement. Confusion. Doubt, suspicion, Taeyong reads. All in the furrow of Doyoung’s eyebrows, within seconds of their eyes meeting each other.

Suddenly, Taeyong stops walking, like his knees have locked.

Suddenly he wants to take a step back.

“You changed your hair?” He blurts.

“That—that’s my line,” Doyoung says, gawking.

But it’s far beyond a hairstyle. At this distance Taeyong can finally tell—something is wrong.

Doyoung looks so small.

The usual, full curves around his face have shrunken into something slimmer. His frame is lanky, and almost feels a little shorter than usual. It’s the air about him that really feels eerily unfamiliar to Taeyong, lacking all the presence Taeyong’s come to expect and associate with this person over time. Perhaps nothing is a better indicator of something being amiss than the absence of the feeling of comfort that usually permeates Taeyong’s body when he sees him.

In its place, all Taeyong feels is…alarm.

“Whoa,” Doyoung says, his facial muscles moving into an expression that looks about the same, except Taeyong cannot comprehend the missing ring around this boy’s slim face, cannot comprehend how or when Doyoung had lost so much weight all of a sudden? “Hyung?”

Taeyong can't open his mouth.

Two meters apart, the two of them stare at each other.

“Oh my god…you look so different." Doyoung gasps.

Taeyong raises an eyebrow. “That’s my line. What's going on? Who are you?”

“Don’t mess with me, please. I’m so lost right now.”

“Are you Doyoung?”

“Yeah? Are you really Taeyong?”

“Yeah—look. Something is really wrong here. Right? I’m not the only one who thinks—”

“No. No, I agree. Something is…” Doyoung’s voice is weak, and he swallows the end of his sentence. He looks around cautiously. “Are we alone in this place?”

“Yeah, we are. Youngho and Donghyuck are out. What’s going on?”

Doyoung huffs an exasperated breath. “I—I just woke up in this place. In that room,” he points, “I have no idea where I am. I've never seen this place before. Is this my phone?”

Taeyong’s brain isn’t processing these words. “Yeah…? Did you not text me with it just now?"

"I did. I was so freaked out, I was panicking. Then I saw some messages from you from last night, and when I tried to open this phone—like, I’ve literally never seen this—it just unlocked on its own.”

“Yeah...that's...facial recognition.” Taeyong says dumbly.

Doyoung, too, cannot process.

“This is mine?”

Taeyong nods.

“Hyung...what year is this?”

“It's...2020. Doie...you're not...making sense.”

Doyoung’s eyes bulge wide. He opens his mouth and closes it again. He wets his lip. “Okay. I want to think you’re messing with me, but you—and this might just be me. I might be seeing things but, hyung, you. You look…"

Silence.

“Younger,” Taeyong breathes.

“No…”

“No,” Taeyong shakes his head firmly, clearing the fog in his mind like he had suddenly discovered the answer, “I mean you.”

Doyoung takes a moment. Then he looks down at his hands, terrified, like he’s seeing through them. "This can't be possible.”

Taeyong walks up to him now, like he also can’t believe his eyes. But the truth is right here, in plain sight. Taeyong tilts his head around, examining the boy from every angle, and he cannot stop shaking his head in bewilderment, cannot formulate a single word to describe what he sees beyond the word “younger”, which. Cannot be possible.

“I don’t—I don’t know what happened,” Doyoung goes on, “last night we were in our dorm. I remember taking a shower and going to sleep. I was rehearsing my introduction for the interview we have this morning, but it's already noon when I woke up, and—when I woke up I was here, wherever this is, I don’t—"

“Hey, how old are you?”

Doyoung blinks. “My last birthday...I turned 19."

Taeyong’s mouth goes dry. “Oh,” he says. “I’m 24."

Doyoung takes a moment. “What? That’s not—”

Taeyong gulps.

“But you look…” Doyoung trails off pathetically.

The phone in his hand buzzes. A message notification pops up on the screen. When Doyoung lifts the phone to read it, the screen unlocks once again, and a shiver of true understanding runs down his spine for the first time.

“Oh,” he says, calm all of a sudden. “It’s me, isn’t it.”

Taeyong nods helplessly. “Hey…”

Doyoung swallows hard.

“Come…come to my room. Let’s talk slowly.”

 

 

 

 

Without rhyme or reason, it seems that Kim Doyoung has been de-aged 4 years.

Not a single trace of memory from this absent time remains in the boy who now sits at the edge of Taeyong’s foreign bed, hands curling nervously on his lap.

There is nothing logical about this conclusion, yet it remains the only possibility.

"What could have caused this?” Doyoung asks, to no one in particular, voice quiet.

Taeyong, stirring in his nervous energy, is pacing around the room. “You sure you didn’t…like, wish upon a shooting star by accident?”

“No…”

“No hexes or jinxes? No witch encounters? No potions…”

“No, no…”

He stops walking in circles, hands on his waist. “Are you even the real Doyoung? What if you’re from a parallel universe? Where is the real Doyoung then? Where’s my Doyoung?”

Doyoung just sits there, unequipped to answer any of these questions. “Hyung, stop. You’re making me doubt whether I’m even real.”

Suddenly, Taeyong’s head snaps up. "Oh my god. It can't be."

“What?"

“Your package. The stupid…just read your texts.”

Doyoung pulls out the blue phone—instantly unlocked. Creepy.

“Which ones?”

“The ones you sent to me. Wait here.”

 

>can you receive a package for me while i'm out?

Doyoung reads. Apparently, he had been the one who sent this message.

 

>what is it?

>some anti-ageing drink someone recommended me

>that exists? that works?

>they said they are seeing drastic results, and wanted to send me a sample…

>that’s what Yuta said last time he tried his juice cleanse, and you remember how that went

There’s more to the conversation, a lot of doubt and suspicion that Doyoung scrolls through, but Taeyong has already left the room. In a minute he is back with something that looks like a purple juice box in hand, bent straw poking out the top.

“I pulled this out of your trash. Look.”

Doyoung leans in.

ANTI-AGEING

Turn back time!

Become your younger self!

Works overnight!

(Grape flavor)

The labels say.

Side by side, the two of them stare at the drink dumbly.

Taeyong turns slowly to him first. “You read these labels and decided…this was safe to drink?”

Doyoung, in fact, has never seen this in his life. But his mental processes right now are akin to the act of tumbling a handful of puzzle pieces around a dryer. Connections are being made against his will.

“I’m sure that your Doyoung would have, um, interpreted this in a figurative manner,” he laughs breathlessly.

Doyoung squints harder. He points to the side of the box, where the fine print is. Taeyong flips it over.

“Warning: product contains highly rejuvenating qualities and restores youth up to five years. Results can be seen overnight and typically last up to one day. Memories made during transformation cannot be retained after reversion. Do not drink if under 5 years old or you may…” Doyoung stops.

“May what?”

“…disappear,” he says. “Um.”

Taeyong straightens. Closing both his eyes, he runs a hand tiredly through his hair. “Lovely.”

Doyoung chuckles weakly. “Hah…I guess…now we know.”

Taeyong stares at him. “You thought this was safe to drink?!”

“I—I must have missed the fine print…”

“Why did you get Lasik surgery if you’re not going to use your eyes!” Taeyong grumbles. He’s not quite angry, not quite upset, just incredulous.

“Don’t make fun of my vision.”

“I told you to be careful.”

“I mean, I guess it must have been from a trusted acquaintance…”

“I can’t believe even you can slip up like this. I’m just glad it’s only a day long, and you’re so lucky we have no schedules today. Can you imagine if—”

“You know…could it be that I didn’t slip up?” Doyoung looks up.

Taeyong meets his eyes. “What do you mean?”

“You never know. Maybe I…wanted this to happen?”

Taeyong goes quiet. He thinks for a long time. “It’s possible.”

“Maybe I thought it would be fun. To be young and fresh again. To see the future as a person from the past…or maybe I thought I would go back in time. How old am I in this timeline anyway? 23, 24? I must be getting old. Do you think I’m past my prime? Is that why I drank it?”

Taeyong listens to the kid’s spiel, chuckling dryly to himself. It’s a little surreal to hear something juvenile like this come out of Doyoung’s mouth, in Doyoung’s voice. Teenagers would think being 24 is old. They did think that, Taeyong remembers.

“Yeah, I wouldn’t put it past you to screw with me. You planned on hanging out with me today, you know? I’ll get you back eventually for dumping your clueless, younger self in my care. And just for the record,” he pauses, feeling oddly defensive, “my Doyoung doesn’t miss you as much as you think he might. He’s perfectly content with being himself in the present moment.”

“Oh,” Doyoung goes quiet, feeling as if he had been put in his place.

He gnaws on his lip. “I guess…I guess, technically speaking, I am just a memory. To the future, I mean.

“That’s all I can be here. Out of time, out of place…I’m sorry. I hadn’t considered that maybe you don’t even want me here.”

Taeyong watches the light in Doyoung’s eyes diminish, and feels a clench in his chest, feels responsible, as if he had just extinguished a star in the sky.

It must be humbling, to realize that no matter how much you may love yourself in the moment, no matter how highly you may think of yourself right now, one day you in this state could no longer be desired, could become something outdated, left behind in the unstoppable flow of time. Taeyong just hopes that it can feel inspiring too, on the other hand, to know you’ll come to be greater in ways your current self can’t possibly imagine.

Taeyong feels oddly tender and protective towards this younger version of Doyoung. All of a sudden the memories flood back to him, and he recalls just how delicate this person used to be, still in his primitive stages of contending with a glass heart, without the years of fortification to come. I must treat him carefully, he thinks. Suddenly, he’s convinced that he must take this rare opportunity to treat this person with nothing but care, so that this innocent creature can leave him feeling only hope in his heart for the future.

He reaches out, wraps a hand around Doyoung’s arm. He thinks Doyoung shivers.

“Hey, if it counts, I think you are wonderful.”

Doyoung smiles crookedly. “Thanks.”

“Your older self…he can get overly critical about you, about his past. He’s hard on himself like that.”

“I’m not surprised.”

“This whole thing, I don’t think it’s a curse or a burden. I’m as curious about it as you are…and I’ve missed you. Incidentally, I’ve been thinking about…you, lately. You, young as you are. I just never thought I’d get the chance to see you again.”

“You missed me…?”

Taeyong nods, smiling kindly.

The twinkle is back in Doyoung’s eyes. How lovely, Taeyong thinks.

“Am I really different now?”

“I’ll explain everything slowly. Come, let’s grab a drink first.”

 

 

 

 

"Say that again?"

"This is NCT 127's dorm."

"NCT 127…”

"Yeah. There are nine of us,” Taeyong smiles. He puts his beer down in a cupboard grid to scoop a bite of his pudding.

Doyoung sits in Taeyong’s gaming chair, fingers idly wiping the condensation off his can. “I’ve heard this name being talked about, but I didn’t know I would be a part of this unit, too.”

"You weren't always. You and Youngho were added, but if I’m honest you always kind of knew that would happen eventually. This unit isn't rotational, and it’s the most active one. We’re both permanent members here.”

"Wow. How long have we been around?"

“Almost 4 years."

“Damn."

Taeyong recalls something, and stands up on the bed. He cranes his neck up at the top row of cupboards, pushing the random assortment of things on display around until he finds what he’s looking for.

He takes the pile of albums off the shelf.

“These are all ours. It’s not the complete collection but—”

Doyoung opens his mouth wide on a gasp, standing up immediately.

Taeyong chuckles, handing the pile over. Doyoung flips through them with nothing but awe in his eyes. He handles them with utmost care, like he cannot believe in their material existence.

“Oh my gosh…”

He peeks into the envelope of the Limitless album. Reads the back of someone’s photo card. Flips through the pages of Cherry Bomb, gawking at an image of himself.

“Purple hair…this styling is so cool.”

“Right? We have some neat stuff.”

Doyoung looks up. “All these songs...I sang them?"

Taeyong nods fondly.

"I want to listen to all of them,” Doyoung gasps. “Can I?”

Taeyong thinks his enthusiasm is really cute. “Are you sure you want to spoil the surprise for yourself?”

“It’s not like I’m time traveling and have to go back,” Doyoung mumbles while Taeyong walks past him to the computer. He starts pulling up his music player, fumbling with the dials on his speakers. Doyoung’s mouth opens round when he skims just how many songs are under the artist NCT 127. “I’m just regressed for a day. I get all the benefits of experiencing the rewards of my hard work without having actually worked for it. Are you sure this isn’t a genius idea? You don’t want to try?”

Taeyong imagines their situation reversed. “No thanks. Who knows how you might bully me if I were the younger one,” he mumbles as he puts on their music.

Doyoung reads the title. “Punch?”

“It’s our latest album. I wanted to show you because you've improved a lot, I think,” Taeyong says, "we all have.”

For the next minute they’re quiet, appreciating the music together.

“We’re still making this kind of…interesting music? Or do all pop songs sound like this now?” Doyoung asks.

“I think we’re still pretty…neo,” Taeyong decides, “in your era, and in mine.”

Doyoung smiles. “That’s a relief. I was afraid…you know, we just debuted. And it seems so…ambitious, what we’re doing, what our song and concept are doing, so avant-garde…”

“I know. It’s still not your preferred genre of music now, but you’re very protective over our unique sound. Oh, you’ll end up making up for it with all the covers you record. You always have a lot of fun making those.”

Doyoung’s eyes widen. “Sounds like I’m having a blast.”

“It’s never easy, but it’s always fun,” Taeyong raises his beer can for a toast.

Doyoung laughs. “This is so strange. It feels like I’m consulting a magic crystal ball for answers.”

Taeyong smiles. “I’ll answer anything I know,” he says from the bed. “What do you want to know?”

Doyoung thinks about it. “Some things I want to ask, but I’m afraid of hearing it, a little.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because there’s nothing I can do to change the way anything turns out, right? By the morning life will resume as it should without any regard for what I’ve learned. Right now I’m just here as a powerless observer.”

“You don’t have to fear. Do you not have confidence in us?”

“I’m full of it. Right now, at least. I have to be. That’s why…”

Taeyong shakes his head. “I promise you, you don’t have to worry.”

Doyoung raises an eyebrow. “Really? Are we doing well then?”

Taeyong glances over. “I think so. We're very stable. We're doing pretty well."

"4 years...we have lots of fans? Our music is popular?” Doyoung cranes his neck, eager to know.

Taeyong laughs. ”Yeah, fairly popular.”

"These albums look beautiful,” Doyoung says, examining the shiny surface of We Are Superhuman in the light. “It’s surreal to me. That we've achieved all this.”

"It's pretty crazy, isn’t it? You feel proud of us every day.”

Doyoung looks up. “Do I tell you that?"

Taeyong is grinning softly. “All the time."

Doyoung nods slowly. “Our albums sell well? Do we win a lot on music shows?”

“Well…yes. Kind of.”

“I guess I’m just trying to see how big of a deal we are.”

Taeyong thinks about it. He thinks about how to put it to Doyoung that maybe they're not as big as he originally anticipated. He remembers the kinds of hopes and expectations they had shared with each other right around the time of debut—not completely out of left field, given their company’s credentials, yet also not a guarantee, and as it turned out, reality wasn’t as easy as it could have been. Their group had not been an instant smash hit, their concept too ahead of the times. In an effort to uphold the integrity of their sound, they’ve had to arduously climb up to where they are now without skipping over a single step, had to carve a path for themselves in the wilderness. He wonders how to tell Doyoung that they're doing well in their own niche and that that's enough. It’s a different kind of success, and Taeyong wonders if this younger version of Doyoung would understand, wonders what to say to someone who had just stepped foot into society with the hopes and dreams and responsibility of being SM's future on his back.

“Well…we haven’t dominated the world.”

Doyoung pauses. “Has someone else?”

Taeyong sighs. “There are bigger names out there, Doyoungie. There are many capable idols nowadays. We have our own little world, and we do our thing, we do it well. Isn’t that enough?”

Doyoung chews on his lip. “Of course it is, but…”

Taeyong peeks at him out the corner of his eyes. “Are you disappointed?"

Doyoung takes a moment. “A little.”

Taeyong remembers…going through this himself, coming to terms with this. Adjusting their mindset. All things that took years to do.

“You know, you’ll change your mind. Nowadays, you are so proud of us. You are so satisfied with our own music that these other things like doing well no longer matter to you, they haven't for a while."

"Is that what I tell you too?"

Taeyong nods.

Doyoung is quiet for a while, revelling in the music.

"I can sing like this...I can sound like this?”

Taeyong sips his beer, grinning to himself. Doyoung’s awe is really endearing.

"Everyone has improved so much.”

“Right? We've gone through a lot. We promoted in Korea for a while before really going global. Then we debuted in Japan, had a concert tour, then a North American tour, came back and just finished promoting our second full album. We're a million seller now, Doie. People worldwide know us. Slowly, we’re getting there. That’s why there’s nothing to worry about.”

“I see,” Doyoung says quietly. “That’s not a bad outcome, either.”

“Far from.” Taeyong glances at him fondly. Truly, there’s something really cute about this younger version of Doyoung. “You should see yourself now. I wish you could. I wish I could show you to yourself. I'm so proud of you, you know.”

Doyoung blinks at him, all of a sudden speechless. He looks away, but Taeyong thinks the tips of his ears are turning pink. How adorable. Belatedly, Taeyong realizes it’s because he would have never said these kinds of things out loud so straightforwardly before.

Doyoung turns around in the chair, puts his drink down and starts searching his name on Youtube. “So…what am I like?”

Taeyong thinks. “Hmm.

“You really grew into yourself. You also learned how to bring the most out of your assets. Look up some pictures and you’ll see what I mean.”

Doyoung does, ooo-ing and ahh-ing along the way. “So I should smile like this in photos…”

Taeyong chuckles. “You have a completely different vibe about you. Something really regal and self-composed. Really dignified. You're a lot more confident now.”

“Interesting…” Doyoung trails off, hand propped against his cheek as he scrolls the pages.

“You…take the lead a lot, actually you help me out as leader a lot. You’re really mature and reliable,” Taeyong tells him. He feels like his words are so inadequate at capturing the image in his mind. “You just…grew up. You don't chase me around anymore. You don't chase anyone around anymore. You're private, you keep to yourself now. Nowadays I’m the one trying to get your attention.”

Doyoung turns his head around. “That sounds unbelievable for some reason.”

“Well…things change. It just comes with understanding better who you are and what you want your image to be, I think. I wish you could meet yourself.”

“I don’t know…what if I don’t like him? I still don’t have a a good idea what kind of a person I want to become yet. I just hope I haven’t lost anything important to me or changed too much.”

“I think more than changed, you’ve…developed. Your core is still the same, of course, you’re still sensitive, attentive, clever…I still rely on your rationality when I feel too emotional…you still love to lie around in bed, you still refuse to game with me, still use the same shampoo I've smelled for years, you still sleep talk. A lot is the same.”

Doyoung nods, taking it in. It seems like this piece of information sits well with him.

“You've achieved a lot of your goals, too. You're comfortable with yourself. You really grew up, Doyoungie. I watched it happen."

Doyoung hums. “Well, I can't imagine it, to be honest...but it must be nice.”

He takes a sip of his beer, then spins around.

"You are different, too. It's so strange, hyung,” he’s shaking his head. “The things you say.”

A corner of Taeyong’s mouth lifts into a half grin. ”What's different about me?"

Doyoung stares at him. ”You're so honest. You almost feel more extroverted.”

“I’m just really relaxed nowadays. As for honesty…we talk so much, all the time. You wouldn't imagine. We communicate so well, you and I.”

“Huh…” Doyoung wets his lips, thinking really hard. “Do I tell you a lot of things then?"

"Everything. Well, almost everything."

“Oh,” Doyoung gulps.

There seems to be something on his mind, the way he speaks deliberately and slowly.

“I’ve been getting this sense since I saw you, but…” he gestures with a finger between them, “are we, like…” he pauses for a long time. “Are we really close?”

There’s some intention behind his words that Taeyong misses, doesn’t understand. “I know we were already pretty close in your time, but this is just another level. You’re my best friend.”

Best friend. Doyoung thinks hard about that term. Would he be able to call Taeyong his best friend in his time? Maybe, sure. They are certainly getting there. But Taeyong speaks this title with such surety that Doyoung has no doubt in his mind his future self must feel the same by now.

Still, the subtext in his words is lost.

If it were true…he thinks. If it came true, Taeyong hyung would know what I mean.

For now, Doyoung lets that spark of hope go.

“What—what do we talk about?” He tries to pull himself back into the conversation.

Taeyong hums. “You know, our days...mundane stuff...our feelings, thoughts...everything unimportant, everything important, everything in between."

“Then—have I already told you everything?” Doyoung slurs, a little nervous all of a sudden.

Taeyong blinks.

Slowly, he tilts his head. “Why? You have secrets?"

Doyoung is silent.

Taeyong smirks deviously, voice saccharine. “Ahem. Of course you've told me everything. What are you referring to?”

Doyoung narrows his eyes. “You're messing with me. It's not gonna work.”

"I'm not lying,” Taeyong replies seriously, “I trust that you've told me everything you deem important for me to know.”

Ba-dum.

Doyoung’s heart leaps.

Surely, that means…?

“So…I told you…?” Doyoung holds his breath.

“You…probably did?” Taeyong replies unsurely.

“And?” Doyoung leans forward, eyes shining eagerly now, “what did...what happened afterwards?"

Taeyong has to lean back. He looks away coolly. He pretends to reach for his drink and busies himself with gulping so he could seem occupied. In reality, he’s furiously racking his brain for some clever response to the hole he had just dug for himself. Now he’s gotta say something just general enough to make sense but specific enough that Doyoung won't realize Taeyong actually has no idea what the fuck he's talking about.

Taeyong peeks at him out the corner of his eyes, takes a chance on his words.

“Well…what you see is what it is,” he says, trying to sound nonchalant.

He watches Doyoung’s reaction carefully. For a second, he’s worried that what he said really makes no sense in context, given the ambivalent expression on Doyoung’s face, but after a moment Doyoung sinks back into the seat, visibly deflating a little.

“I see…" he says slowly.

He’s disappointed.

Taeyong’s curiosity is driving him mad.

Could it be…?

There’s no way.

He drops the inkling of hope quickly. Returns his mind to describing the very real state of their relationship, and not daydreaming about…yet he doesn’t want to drop this thread of conversation, wants to push a little more…

Taeyong coughs. “Anyway, we got a lot closer. Can you imagine? I didn't know it was possible to be so close to someone. We still have our disagreements and differences, but we've really come to understand and learn from each other."

Doyoung is very pensive, listening to his words. Taeyong desperately wants to know what’s going on in his mind.

At last, Doyoung lets out a faint sigh. “I guess that is pretty ideal,” he says. “There’s nothing else I can ask for, right?”

Taeyong, about to take a sip, lowers his drink.

“Were you…hoping for something else?”

Doyoung’s eyes get wider by the second.

“What do you mean?”

Taeyong’s eyes are trained on him, and Doyoung is returning his gaze ardently, a tenuous connection that feels unbearable to break all of a sudden. Doyoung has stopped breathing. Taeyong’s throat is restricted. What does he mean? He wonders if this “something else” that Doyoung envisions is anything like the reality of the matter. How would he explain? How can he go about describing the nature of their relationship to someone so young and inexperienced?

Internally, Taeyong and Doyoung are both confident in their bond. But externally, how easily their intentions could be misinterpreted. Not to mention outsiders, but even their younger selves wouldn’t be able to understand.

“I don’t want to scare you,” Taeyong says carefully, runs a hand through his hair, “but the way I’ve been interacting with you is different from how I would interact with the older you.”

“Scare me?” Doyoung is breathless, “why would…how do we…?”

“Well…for one,” Taeyong says, and he starts to put down his drink and snack, looking like he’s about to stand up. “In my time, when we talk, I like it when…we’re not sitting so far apart.”

Taeyong gets off the bed. He walks over, looming over Doyoung in the seat, expression hard to read.

For the first time, Doyoung feels a bit intimidated by the gap in their age, feels vulnerable, and truthfully, he is a little scared by what this means.

Taeyong reaches out and picks up Doyoung’s hand.

With a light tug, Doyoung is standing up. Silently, he lets himself be pulled over to the bed, his heart speeding up with every step.

Ba-dum. Ba-dum.

Taeyong sits them down on the edge, side by side. He turns to watch Doyoung, who returns his gaze timidly.

Doyoung is very aware that Taeyong still hasn’t let go of his hand.

“I love our conversations, but,” Taeyong gives his hand a squeeze, “physical intimacy is important to me…to us, too.”

Doyoung’s mind blanks.

Does that mean…they have that kind of a relationship?

How…how did they get there? He wonders.

“I gain a lot of comfort being close to you…like this.”

Taeyong lifts his other hand, reaches around Doyoung’s neck, guides him gently forward by the base of his orange hair while he too leans in, until their foreheads bump together.

Doyoung is breathing shallowly, and his eyes have fallen closed.

Just an inch away, Taeyong notes his trembling eyelids.

Their noses are almost touching. Their mouths—breathing warm air onto each other’s faces. Doyoung tries not to think about any of this, tries to just relax, relax, relax…whatever is happening…

Taeyong drops his hand, and by instinct Doyoung leans away. He can feel it. His whole face is flushed, his body on fire.

Taeyong watches him go, smiling slightly. “In my time, I can get this close and you would be fine with it,” he explains.

Doyoung nods dumbly.

“And sometimes…” Taeyong tugs his tshirt from the back, and they both fall back onto the bed. Taeyong nudges Doyoung to his side.

Doyoung’s heart skips a beat when Taeyong slips up behind him and, without preamble, wraps his arms tightly around his waist. “Sometimes we just lie here, and you’ll hug me, like this. When you’re stressed, when I’m stressed, when you’re sad, you’ll hug me like this.”

Huh?

“I really like it,” Taeyong finishes, and proceeds to bury his face in the back of Doyoung’s neck.

Doyoung can’t take any more.

“Hyung…” he says gravely, “what kind of a relationship do we have?”

Hugging him, Taeyong feels the soft rumble of these words leaving Doyoung’s body.

He breathes in his smell…something not quite familiar but precious all the same.

He thinks about how to answer.

The full truth feels too long. Even if he put it into words, it’s not something anyone would be able to understand unless they experience it themselves.

He thinks he should probably say this: it’s not like that. He should probably clarify. You might think it means something else, Taeyong thinks he should say, but the words—the truths—are having a hard time leaving his mouth.

If only…

Holding this adorable, nervous Doyoung in his arms, Taeyong’s resolve wavers, and an idea slowly takes shape in his mind…

No one has to know.

“Do you really want to know,” Taeyong whispers, “what it's like?"

Shaking slightly, Doyoung nods.

“Turn around, Doie.”

Doyoung does, turns to face him, and Taeyong…

Leans in.

Eyes closed.

Presses their lips softly together.

They stay there for several heartbeats, and then Taeyong pulls away.

When he opens his eyes, Doyoung's eyes are wide and twinkling.

"You and I...we do these things?”

Taeyong doesn't answer, training his expression into something neutral, but the fondness is evident across his face. He strokes Doyoung’s cheek softly with the back of his knuckles. Doyoung’s eyelids flutter, and he reaches a hand up to cover Taeyong’s hand.

"So it’s true…” he breathes. “I finally let myself do these things…”

Ba-dum.

It takes a second for the words to register.

And then it’s Taeyong whose eyes are going wide, bulging like balloons.

“You…”

Taeyong's eyes are full of wonder.

But Doyoung isn’t looking at him.

Taeyong tilts the younger boy’s face up by the chin, thumb stroking the base of his lips. Taeyong’s eyes follow the movement, staring at Doyoung’s full lips, trying to recall that soft, warm, and dry sensation when he pressed his own against them earlier, and his mind starts wandering…longing…

More, he thinks. And along with it, he feels a pang in his chest.

Again.

“You know,” he laughs breathlessly instead, unable to contend with these effervescent feelings. He finds Doyoung’s eyes again, and this time neither of them look away.

Taeyong enunciates each word slowly, solemnly, past a helpless grin. “Every day you make me happy, make me feel loved.”

Doyoung doesn’t respond—doesn’t know how. Just taking it all in.

“You wouldn’t believe it, but thank you. That’s all I wanted to say.”

Taeyong pats him once softly on the cheek, and then begins to pull away.

Doyoung catches his slipping hand.

“Wait,” he says.

“Wait,” he repeats, gasping for breath.

“Do that again,” he breathes, “please.”

And then he’s leaning into the space between them, and Taeyong only has a moment to think, only realizes he’s grinning ear to ear when their lips meet.

This time Doyoung kisses him in earnest, and any doubt of him wanting this flies out the fifth floor open window.

The breeze from outside filters in, drifts across their skins like a touch of satin, a sensation lost in the remarkable feel of each other.

The birds in the trees pay them no mind, their crisp tweets symphonic in the background while the room fills with the soft sounds of raw, boyish voices, coming in the form of gasps and breaths.

Fingers in Doyoung’s hair.

Legs tangling together, noses bumping.

The sweat gathering where their skins are plastered, arising from the summer heat even while the air conditioning ruffles the collars of their shirts.

Doyoung, Doyoung, Taeyong’s mind chants, his senses filled with the smell of him.

Hyung, Doyoung thinks. Sweet like pudding, he thinks, taking a breath, meeting his lips, again, and again, and again…

Wandering hands.

Hushed confessions.

Feelings released, hearts that have found each other in a fiery connection, however brief, however impermanent.

Like this, on the single bed of a certain room, in a certain unit on the fifth floor of a certain apartment complex.

Slipping past the notice of any bird on the branches, any child on the streets, any body else in the world with their eyes on them, the two boys remain joined determinedly on the bed.

Just like this, encapsulated in bliss, their afternoon passes quietly away.

 

 

 

 

Inevitably, the other residents of the floor come back in the evening and look for him, and Taeyong decides he can’t hide Doyoung forever. Out they go to meet Youngho and Donghyuck, and after half an hour of disbelief, scrutiny, and exasperated convincing, the situation is relayed and understood.

Youngho cannot stop laughing, thinks the whole ordeal is hilarious. He snaps away at Doyoung with his camera, half believing that his orange haired figure will evaporate from the Polaroid photos come morning.

Donghyuck seems like he has a lot to say, but when asked what he thinks, just tries to make Doyoung call him hyung over and over and gets rejected, over and over.

They sit in Donghyuck and Youngho’s bedroom, the four of them chatting until dark, which is nearing midnight by these summer hours. They enlighten little Doyoung on many things, about their career, about things they’ve learned growing up, reflecting on the past together. For hours, Taeyong’s attention is on him, wondering what he thinks and feels being informed of 4 years of experience in one night, watching the expressions on little Doyoung’s face change in ways that he doesn’t see often on the present Doyoung anymore.

Eventually, they have to get ready for Monday morning.

Doyoung leads them down the hall, forefinger hooked around Taeyong’s pinky.

“I can stay if you want to talk more.”

Taeyong follows him in past the door to Doyoung’s room. He reaches to turn the light on, but feels hands on his arms, lets Doyoung press him back against the door. In moments, in the dark, Doyoung is leaning in, warmth sealing against him, head dropping onto his shoulder.

Taeyong wraps his arms around him.

“Stay,” Doyoung whispers,“but I’ve had enough of talking.”

Taeyong nods. He understands.

“Let me just be in this moment with you.”

They stand there, embracing. Breathing. Chests rising, falling.

What better moment than now to be in love?

To fall in love all over again, Taeyong thinks.

Doyoung tugs Taeyong away from the door, their bodies still attached. Like a penguin swaying side to side, he marches them backwards until they’re at the window, and reaches out to pull the blinds up. Outside, the city is lit up, some ambient light splashing in onto their blue-tinged skins. In the dim light, Taeyong watches Doyoung up close, big eyes blinking at him in the dark.

Outside, the moonlight is so very beautiful, and Taeyong feels frankly a little delirious.

He touches Doyoung’s face, over and over.

Doyoung turns, presses a kiss into his palm.

“I’m about to disappear soon, right?” Doyoung whispers.

Taeyong laughs nervously into the quiet, all breath. “It’s not like you’ll turn into Cinderella right at midnight. The effects supposedly ‘work overnight’, don’t they?”

Doyoung’s eyes are on him. “Then…while I’m still here, will you stay?”

One after another, they take showers and brush up. When Taeyong comes back, Doyoung is waiting for him on the far side of the bed. The light clicks off. Taeyong finds Doyoung’s waiting hand in the dark, their fingers twining together. Their lips meet, so naturally, just like this, on a minty kiss, and Taeyong decides a little late into the day that he cannot get enough.

With a bittersweetness, they part.

“Will you still be mine tomorrow?” Doyoung asks.

Past the ache in his chest, Taeyong smiles. “If you want me to be.”

“I hope the me tomorrow can have this. I hope he knows how wonderful this is.”

Slowly, Taeyong’s head falls back onto the pillow. “The you tomorrow wouldn’t suspect a thing,” he admits, resigned. “He’ll have no idea anything happened.”

“Even if I wake up with you in my arms?”

“He wouldn’t know that we…finally…”

Doyoung turns to watch him, squeezes his hand. “Have you been waiting too? For me? All this time? Have I made you wait?”

Taeyong has stopped waiting, but this, he doesn’t tell him.

“It’s okay,” Taeyong says. He hopes he could understand.

“If you tell him, I’m sure he’ll…”

“Doie.”

“Hm?”

“I’m so happy that I got to see you again,” he says slowly, so very slowly. “This is so lovely, beyond anything I could have imagined. Thank you…I’ll treasure this day forever. But the you now…he loves me in a different way, I think."

Doyoung’s hand clenches instinctively. “I stop loving you like this?"

"The truth is...I don't know,” Taeyong says to the ceiling.

Doyoung thinks about it for a long time, his breathing even. He speaks in mumbles, on the verge of sleep. “I’m sorry if I ever stop…I don’t want to stop. Right now I don’t want to stop. I want to feel like this for a long time.”

Taeyong’s thumb strokes the back of his hand, to reassure him. “It’s ok even if you stop. Our relationship is wonderful as it is.”

Doyoung nods tiredly. “I can see that too, I think…as long as you’re happy, hyung.”

“I am.”

Doyoung nuzzles into Taeyong’s shoulder. Breathes into his skin.

“You know, I’m not scared of disappearing.”

“Why’s that?”

“If life is truly as good as you guys have told me, then…I can’t wait to be back in the future.”

Taeyong chuckles softly. “You would be happy to be back, I think.”

The seconds tick by.

Outside, the cicadas cry.

Inside, the air conditioning whirrs.

Soon, the magic will dissipate into foam, into dust.

“Doie,” Taeyong whispers, and he’s no longer sure Doyoung is even awake, but he desperately wants to say this. “I know these words don’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things. I know you’ll forget them in the morning, but I want to tell you this anyway. You’ll be alright. You'll turn out alright. We'll be alright, so don't worry, okay? All you have to do is just keep being yourself.”

After a moment, Doyoung’s head against his shoulder nods.

“Okay,” he mumbles. “Good night, hyung. See you tomorrow.”

Taeyong turns his head to look at him.

Watches him so intimately and for so long that he must have, at some point, witnessed the moment Doyoung crossed into the world of sleep.

Orange hair ruffling to the air con, eyelids softly closed, a sated smile on his lips.

A bittersweet pain swells in his chest.

Taeyong imagines them now, standing across the liminal divide between reality and dream, and he had just let go of this young boy’s hand, watching his small back retreat into the fog of the other side.

Taeyong feels tears welling up. Wonders if Doyoung is as sad as he is, and the thought makes him hold it in.

Taeyong stares at him, trying to burn this ephemeral scene into the back of his eyelids, bidding farewell in his mind to this boy he will never see again.

“I love you,” he whispers. “Sweet dreams.”

 

 

 

 

“Hey.”

“Hyung.”

“Taeyongie. Wake up.”

A hand on his arm. Jostling him. Tapping him. Rolling him around now as if he were a log.

“Uueeghguhgh,” Taeyong says.

“Good morning, sunshine.”

Taeyong cranks open his eyes, not without tremendous effort.

Before him is Kim Doyoung, lying there, propped up on the side by his elbow, looking down at him. Silently, Doyoung raises an eyebrow.

What’s he looking so smug for? Taeyong thinks.

“Morning, Doie,” he grumbles.

Suddenly, everything about the previous day registers in his groggy mind.

Taeyong sits right up.

“Do you remember anything?!”

Doyoung is so startled he bangs his head against the wall. “Ow, relax! Of course not. The box said no memories are retained, didn’t it?”

Taeyong gawks at him.

“You—! So you did this! You made this happen!”

“Yeah, I did,” Doyoung smirks coolly. “I was just curious. But it sounds like a lot happened in the end.”

Doyoung is prodding. Taeyong won’t have any of it.

“You—I’m not telling you anything. That’s what you get.”

Doyoung sits up too, just to yawn, stretch, then shrug. “Doesn’t hurt me. You’ll have to live with it, not me.”

“Hmph!”

Doyoung starts to stand up. He walks towards his closet, mumbling along his way. “Guess I’ll just never know how…”

“What?”

“How perverted Taeyong hyung convinced a 19 year old me to cuddle him to sleep,” he accuses, looking at Taeyong askance as if he were shaming him. “Who knows what else you did to the poor kid.”

“I—!” Taeyong yelps indignantly, cheeks flaming red when he recalls that the accusation isn’t entirely groundless. Still. “He wanted to cuddle me! I should be the one surprised! I didn’t know you’ve been wanting to cuddle me since that young. Jeez!”

“Hmm…that’s what he said?” Doyoung closes one eye.

“Yeah,” Taeyong huffs.

“That’s all he said?”

Taeyong goes quiet.

“What more is there?” He tests, hands clenching in the blankets.

Doyoung assesses him for a moment, before bending down to open his closet and pull out his outfit of the day. “Nothing, nothing.”

Doyoung goes about getting dressed. Taeyong sits there on the bed, watching him pull out shirt after shirt, before hanging them all back and pulling something out from his white grid cupboard.

Ah, Taeyong thinks.

This is real life. This is what life really is.

Yesterday was…he gulps. Nothing short of a fever dream.

He might really ask Youngho to see those photos later.

Taeyong watches Doyoung pace around the room, pull his shirt off and change, ignoring him largely as he goes about his morning.

Normalcy.

It feels good to be back, Taeyong tells himself.

This is fine.

This is okay.

…isn’t it?

Something swells in his chest again, a remnant of the feeling from last night.

When he blinks, Taeyong discovers that he can still see the curve of that sweet smile, pressed into his shoulder…

Watching Doyoung button up his shirt in an absolutely mundane moment, feeling the dull, subdued ache in his chest leave his body, Taeyong all of a sudden feels as if something intangible is slipping through his fingers by the second, and if he didn’t grasp at it now—if he held himself back, like he does, time after time—it would truly disappear from his side for a long time.

A splash of orange, fading into the whiteness of the horizon.

Doyoung grabs his keys from the table, turns towards the door. “We can talk more about this later, but we gotta head out soon. It’s already—”

“Wait, Doie—”

Doyoung stops. Turns around.

Taeyong has shot to his feet, is staring at him, wide eyed.

“Is there something you’re not telling me?”

He pauses, swallowing.

“Something important?”

Doyoung is silent for some time.

Then, as if he had come to a decision, his expression softens. The hand reaching for the door handle falls to his side.

“Did I finally tell you, hyung?” He says quietly.

Taeyong looks torn.

“Maybe,” he answers.

Doyoung…looks away. Inhales, lets it out in a long sigh, and then laughs dryly at himself. He rubs his temples. “What a troublemaker that guy is,” he says, shaking his head but smiling hopelessly. “Can’t keep his mouth shut.”

Taeyong’s eyes go wide.

“No, it was my fault, I coaxed it out of him,” he interjects, feeling defensive on small Doyoung’s behalf. “But you should have—you should have told me.”

He straightens now, takes two steps closer to Doyoung.

“You should have just told me.”

Standing before him now.

“Have you never considered I might feel the same?”

Taeyong reaches up a hand, and it falls on Doyoung’s shoulder.

Eyes locked, they stare at each other.

Doyoung reads the plea, the desperation in Taeyong’s eyes, and for a second he feels like he doesn’t need the memories from yesterday to understand all that he’s thinking in this moment.

“I see…” He says at last. “Thank you for telling me.”

Taeyong wets his lips.

“Doie…”

Doyoung…knows what’s coming. Watches Taeyong’s pretty, long lashes flutter, eyes fall closed. Feels him lean in, rising, and for a moment he holds his own breath, his own eyelids drooping, head tilting on its own so naturally, lips parting…

A breath away, and…

Doyoung slides his hand between them.

Taeyong’s mouth makes contact with Doyoung’s soft fingertips, and he jolts back.

“No?” He blinks up at Doyoung.

“Not right now,” Doyoung shakes his head. “Let me think about it.”

Taeyong is speechless, gaze going blank, looking mortified and humiliated. His heart hurts. Pain is written all over his face.

Doyoung knows he has to rectify this quickly before Taeyong’s soul ascends. He grips both his arms, looks into his eyes while he speaks softly. “Taeyongie. This is not a one day tryst.”

Taeyong’s mouth is pressed thin, watching him back.

“I’m not going to disappear after,” Doyoung forms slowly. “Anything we decide, we’ll have to bear the consequences, both of us together.”

Slowly, the words sink in, the reality of the situation.

Taeyong looks away, deflating in his grip. “Okay,” he sighs deeply. “I got it.”

Doyoung pulls him into a hug. “I need some time.”

 

 

 

 

By the entry doorway, when they’ve all finished getting ready for the morning, Doyoung waits for Taeyong to pull on his sneakers and tie his laces. In one hand, he idly twirls the keyring around his finger. In the other, he’s scrolling his phone. Everybody else has already left.

Beside him, Taeyong’s figure straightens. His cross body bag and all its accessories jangle with the movement. Doyoung turns to the door, pushing it open into the hall. A gust of wind blows in.

When he turns around, Taeyong is standing still as a statue. His hands fisted along the bottom of his shirt, worrying his bottom lip with his eyebrows knitted. Doyoung knows what’s on his mind before he even speaks.

“It’s just—”

Doyoung can’t help but smile.

“If not now, then when…?”

Taeyong doesn’t wait for an answer, pushes past him into the hallway and starts walking towards the elevator. Doyoung locks the door, follows on his heels.

Through the windows, sunlight pours in, makes Doyoung’s skin tingle with warmth.

“Hmm…I don’t know,” he says.

Back to him, Taeyong can still hear the smile in his words.

“Who knows? Maybe I’ll surprise you one day.”

Taeyong humphs.

Standing before the metal doors now, he jams his finger once against the elevator button.

“Idiot. Just don’t make me wait forever.”

In mere moments, by luck or magic, as if their ride had been on its way down to welcome them all along, the bell rings and the doors open wide, its warm orange interior waiting for them to step in.

Taeyong’s eyes widen a little, startled.

“Come on.” Doyoung takes his hand, pulls him in, and that’s all they need to feel ready to live another day.

 

 

 

 

the end