Side pairings: Minseok/Luhan, Joonmyun/Joohyun(Red Velvet).
Word count: 4,4k.
Warnings: Character death, angst, alcohol, overall sadness.
Summary: MAMA!Au. Zitao is drunk, Joonmyun smiles and Minseok tries to understand.
Notes: Written for taobeis 2016 round. Title from Rihanna's Never Ending. Thanks to Mari and Julia for looking through this and also for holding my hand. Also on AO3.
Zitao stumbles up the staircase made out of polished marble. The Academy is silent, almost eerily so at this time of the day. The sound of his combat boots too loud in the night. He's actively trying not to wake the entire Academy, but finds it difficult when his feet, his body no longer wants to listen to him. So Zitao follows his body, lets his feet drag him up the countless stairs that he probably could walk up while asleep. As he has been trotting up and down these stairs for years.
Finally reaching the top of the stairs, Zitao's feet turn right, sends him down a familiar hallway. There are several doors - 12 doors, each one black, made of the darkest wood, embedded with a logo. Zitao passes the unicorn, the dragon, the one that looks oddly similar to a scorpion now that his brain is muddled, fuzzy. That thought is archived in the back of his brain for later. He needs to tease Jongdae about it. If he remembers to.
Zitao pauses in front of the fourth door, touches the doorknob with his hand. It's cold, doesn't heat under Zitao's touch. It doesn't open, no matter how much pressure and strength Zitao applies to it.
"I forgot," Zitao mumbles, tugs off the fingerless leather glove on his left hand, stuffs it into the pocket of his leather jacket. He flexes his fingers a couple of time before curling them into a fist, murmuring something. Seconds after the words - a soft poem - are spoken, the palm of Zitao's left hand starts glowing, lines shaping out on his hand until they form a symbol; an hourglass. Zitao presses his glowing palm to against the silver cutout of an hourglass on his door and leaves it there until he hears the lock click softly.
The room is chilly despite the hot, humid summer, dark marble walls greeting Zitao with glowing patterns that starts brightening as soon as Zitao closes the door behind him. There isn't much in the room, save for a couple of shelves filled to their brims with books, as well as a recliner that Jongin helped Zitao move in here a couple of decades ago. A big wooden sideboard is the newest addition to the room; a gift from Kyungsoo.
In the middle of the room stands something that looks like a perched basin of water. To anyone unworthy, anyone not enlightened or blessed with the Gift it looks like just that, a basin of plain water.
It's Zitao's mirror; the Mirror of Time.
Zitao crosses the floor, leaving glowing prints of the soles of his shoes in his wake, he pauses only to strip himself off the leather jacket, sends it tumbling to the floor without caring. He doesn't stop until he reaches the Mirror. His own reflection looks back at him, doing nothing to hide the dark circles under his eyes, how his cheekbones are slightly more protruding than they should be. It's easy to fix. Zitao doesn't bother.
"Show me him," Zitao murmurs, holding his palm over the water. The surface ripples, small waves brushing over the palm of Zitao's hand. A fountain of light blasts upwards before it turns pitch-black. Then, gently, slowly does a face shape out in the Mirror. It's like the mortal's surveillance camera, Jongin had said once. Zitao guesses he's right in a way. The Mirror is better than any surveillance camera as it shows the past, present and future. Anything, anyone Zitao wants to see, the Mirror shows it to him.
What starts out as a pale watercolor painting turns into a sharp, crisp video feed of a mop of chocolate brown hair. Hair that feels soft between Zitao's fingers. Hair that smells like vanilla. Boring, familiar, home. The man in Zitao's Mirror smiles, his eyes crinkling in a way that makes Zitao's heart throb painfully, butterflies fluttering in his stomach. A heavy lump forms in Zitao's throat, making it almost impossible to breathe.
"Joonmyun," Zitao whispers. His long fingers trace over Joonmyun's cheek, chin, lips, all while Joonmyun continues to smile, teeth white, almost blending in the darkness of Zitao's room. Zitao watches, hunger in his eyes, teeth biting on his bottom lip as Joonmyun enters his dark apartment, immediately getting attacked by his two cats: Suho, a Russian Blue and Peach, a Siamese. He hangs his jacket up on a peg before he bends down, greeting his babies, showering them with love and affection, promises of food that has them trailing after him, meowing.
The amounts of alcohol he consumed previously are losing their effect, no longer soothing, numbing - just tiring. Instead of washing away his thoughts and concerns, they're now sending his brain back into full speed way too fast. Zitao doesn't want to deal with it, can't deal with it.
With the Mirror still showing Joonmyun, Zitao turns away from it to seek refuge, courage in the contents of the tall, wooden sideboard. He tugs open one of the small doors, brings out a half-empty bottle with amber liquid. For a couple of seconds, it's tempting to just take deep mouthfuls from the crystal bottle itself but he decides against it, digs a low glass out of another door in the sideboard, pours a decent amount of the amber liquid.
He does take a deep swig of the crystal bottle before stuffing it back into the sideboard, wincing slightly as he feels the alcohol burn as it trickles down his throat. Glass in hand, Zitao returns to the mirror, takes a deep sip of the alcohol before placing the glass precariously down at the side of the mirror where Joonmyun assuming has fed his cats and is curled up in a recliner, glasses perched on the tip of his nose as he scrolls through his phone.
"It's past midnight," Zitao mutters, fingers flirting with the rim of the glass. "Why aren't you sleeping? You would be sleeping if-"
Zitao bites his bottom lip, worries between his teeth to keep himself from finishing the sentence. The familiar burn returns to his eyes; his vision blurs. Fuck, not again. This was why he had gone out drinking in the first place. Fumbling, Zitao curls his fingers around the base of the glass, brings it to his lips, drains it completely in a mouthful. A drop of it trickles out of Zitao's mouth, down his chin, but he doesn't care, doesn't notice.
Through the veil of unshed tears, Zitao can see him smile that fond, affectionate smile that makes his entire face brighten like the sun. Joonmyun's eyes crinkle, a soft flush settles in his cheeks. And it hurts. Zitao feels his heart breaking as love settles in Joonmyun's features.
"You're supposed to look at me like that. Only me," Zitao's voice cracks several times, vowels high despite the soft volume of his face. "You promised.”
Zitao releases his hold on the glass and gravity claims it quickly, slams it against the cold, marble floors, breaking it into a thousand bits; precisely like Zitao's heart in his ribcage. It's Zitao who's on the floor, unamendable, broken.
Despite him putting up a fight, a sob rakes through his body, escapes all the barriers, walls he has built up and escapes his mouth. It echoes off the wall, sounding like thunder, shattering the beautiful marble walls. The drop that spilled the cup hits, Zitao's dam breaks, gives.
His trembling fingers curl around the edges of the mirror, knuckles turning white as he lets the sobs wreck through him, ruining him. Hot tears spill down Zitao's cheeks, messing up his eyeliner; dark streaks follow the transparent ones. His body trembles with every bone shattering sob, lungs expanding as they desperately try to provide Zitao with the oxygen he needs. His heart feels heavy, his chest hollow; as if his insides are carved out and all that's left is his broken heart and his bones.
Every sob drains a bit of his strength and before long, his knees give in and sends Zitao down onto the floor, knees curled against his chest. He presses his cheek against the cold marble of the raised basin; the Mirror as he submits to the pain, eyes closing as the sobs, the sorrow, rakes through his body.
Zitao isn't sure how long he sits there, curled up into himself, trying to suffocate his own moans by pressing his mouth against his arm with little success. He cries until he has no tears left, cries until his throat is sore, until his limbs feel like they're made out of lead. Zitao cries himself numb, empty.
It's only then, when his sore sobs have been reduced to quiet whimpers, that Zitao notices that the door is buzzing, trying to communicate with him. It's a soft hum, familiar, voiceless but Zitao is still fully able to understand what it says. There's someone on the outside wanting to get in. Someone friendly, the door informs him as it glows bright, not red.
All of the rooms in the tower are an extension of the person they belong to. The twelve rooms can only be opened by the person that carries the same symbol as the one embossed into the front of it. However, when another person with the Gift holds their symbol against the door's symbol they can request entrance, like this person does now. They know Zitao is inside, or else they wouldn't have bothered.
Zitao doesn't have to speak, only lets the door know it's okay. It can't get worse than this. The door buzzes softly, the lock clicks and whoever it is outside is let in. Zitao doesn't know, his head still buried in his arms, his cheek that's wet with tears sticks to the drier skin of his arms.
The person entering the room has a strong aura, cold, yet familiar, friendly aura takes over Zitao's sorrow. Like a balm it calms, soothes. Something cool curls around Zitao's broken heart, stinging but still caring. Unable to mend it, but still protecting, loving. Gathering the small shards of Zitao's heart so they won't spread further.
"Taozi," Minseok says, his voice as soft as winter mornings. Zitao didn't hear him cross the floor but he feels him when he approaches. Minseok's aura is as cold as his Gift - the power of frost, yet Minseok is one of the warmest people Zitao has ever known. Minseok's touch is warm despite his cold when he brushes Zitao's gelled bangs away from his face, combs through his hair gently as he murmurs something in Zitao's native language that Zitao isn't tuned in for right now.
"You've been outside. In the mortal world." It's not a question, even though his pitch rises as if it was. Minseok knows. In lieu of answering, Zitao pushes his head against Minseok's palm, wordlessly telling him to continue petting him, which he does.
For the longest time, for what feels like hours, Minseok sits in front of him, knees against Zitao's feet as he untangles Zitao's black locks, scratches his scalp softly. It calms Zitao's body, almost lulls him to sleep even though Zitao knows that if he was to fall asleep, Minseok would wake him up. Minseok wants answers.
"You've seen Joonmyun," Minseok says, disbelief lacing his voice. He ceases his ministrations, hands falling to Zitao's arms instead. His voice is harder when he speaks again.
"Zitao look at me."
Zitao doesn't want to. Instantly regrets giving Minseok permission to enter, wants to kick and scream until Minseok leaves him alone; until everyone leaves him alone. He doesn't want to talk, doesn't want to do anything besides sitting next to his Mirror, thinking, remembering, mourning.
"Zitao." A cold, brief shock runs through Zitao's veins when Minseok's small fingers curl around his wrist. A warning. Minseok is older than him, and this is him asking for respect and Zitao cannot refuse.
Slowly, Zitao pulls away from the sanctuary his arms have created for him until he can see Minseok's face. His face is flushed from sleep, his eyes the same. Minseok's auburn hair a mess on the top of his head - it makes him look so much younger than his 600 years, or so. Zitao isn't sure how old he is, only knows that he's way older than Zitao, as Minseok was the First.
The hardness of Minseok's face immediately softens save for the determination that still lingers in his eyes. His hand is warm again when it cups Zitao's cheek, thumb slowly caressing his cheekbone.
"Did you see him?" Minseok asks, voice as soft as cotton, eyes fond. The lump in Zitao's throat grows.
"I wanted to," Zitao admits. His voice is scratchy from the crying, the sobs thoroughly wrecked his vocal cords making him sound unfamiliar to his own ears. Minseok nods. "But I couldn't. I - I don't trust myself. I would have screwed it up so badly."
By default, Zitao and the other 11 Guardians are invisible to mortals. Some children are able to, but most mortals aren't able to see them unless they make themselves visible by wearing an amulet. Zitao had one of them in the pocket of his discarded leather jacket. His fingers had itched to use it but the voice in his head that sounded disturbingly much like Joonmyun told him not to. You'll be breaking the Laws, my peach.
"So he didn't see you?"
Zitao shakes his head, gaze fluttering down to look at his knees. Minseok relaxes. Zitao can't see it but he can feel his aura calming down. Thinking about it makes shame, guilt coil in his empty frame. He had almost broken the Laws. The same thing that he had done in the first place when-
A sob leaves Zitao's throat without him being able to stop it, his eyes are burning.
"Hey, hey," Minseok murmurs, breaking through the fortress Zitao has made out of his knees. Minseok is tiny, fits easily between Zitao's long, leather-clad legs. Numb, Zitao lets him rearrange their bodies until Minseok sits with his back against the Mirror, Zitao curled up against his shoulder, his face pushed against Minseok's neck. The smell of spearmint and lemongrass fills his nose; it's soothing just like Minseok.
"I'm glad you didn't expose yourself to him, Zitao," Minseok says, thumb stroking over Zitao's cheek. "It wouldn't have done you, or us, any good if you did."
Zitao knows this, knows the Law. He can recite it in his sleep.
"It's not - not like he'd recognize me if I did," Zitao whispers so quiet that he wonders if Minseok actually heard it. The soft hum that comes from him tells Zitao that he did.
"Probably not. But the heart wants what it wants," Minseok agrees. The lump in Zitao's throat feels bigger. Without really noticing he has started trembling. Minseok has started rocking him like one would an upset child. Zitao feels both mad and grateful.
"Joonmyun wouldn't have wanted it either," Minseok adds solemnly. "Joonmyun wouldn't have wanted you to be like this, Zitao."
Fire shoots through his body. Heart pumping with rage as Zitao all but shoves Minseok away as if burnt - or frozen in Minseok's case. Fury rams through his vein like a freight train; the urge to kick Minseok, throw him out of the room is back. The anger is a welcome change from the numbness that sorrow brings, almost soothing. It makes Zitao feel alive.
"That's fucking easy for you to sit here and say! You're alive, you're still a Guardian. You still have your fucking powers!" Zitao snarls as he scrambles to his slightly shaky feet. Minseok raises his eyebrows. He's still looking at Zitao with soft, sad eyes and that infuriates Zitao further.
"It's so fucking easy for you to sit here and be all vague and smart about what Joonmyun would want when you risked nothing!" Zitao shouts, his body trembling with anger. It feels so good. "I bet Luhan is in your room right now, asleep. You have no right to lecture me like this when the one you love is right here and while I-"
Zitao's voice cracks, the lump in his throat threatening to suffocate him. His vision blurs for the second time that night. Zitao thought he was done crying, thought he had no more tears to shed. His bottom lip starts trembling. No, he doesn't want this, not yet again. Gathering himself, forcing his lungs to cooperate, Zitao screams.
"I killed the one I loved!"
Zitao is ready to continue lashing out when a movement in the corner of his eyes catch his attention. He forgot to put the Mirror back into slumber mode so it's still broadcasting Joonmyun's life. Despite it being late, he's got company. A beautiful woman about Joonmyun's age sits across him on the floor, several boxes of Chinese takeout scattered between them. The Mirror doesn't display sounds, only pictures so Zitao has no idea what they're talking about but Joonmyun says something and she laughs.
"His sister?" Minseok asks, sounding genuinely curious as he steps closer to Zitao and the mirror.
"They're just acquaintances for now. But she'll eventually become his wife," Zitao says tonelessly. "Her name is Bae Joohyun."
"I saw the wedding invitations," Zitao continues, louder. Minseok doesn't continue talking, but Zitao can feel him look at him. "They'll have three children. Two girls and a boy."
"Zitao," Minseok tries again, compassion evident in his voice. "Time is fluid, this may change. Not even you can predict the future."
"No, but I am the Guardian of Time," Zitao says listlessly. Minseok sighs. "After 200 years I've gotten pretty good at it."
"You shouldn't look through time like that, Zitao," Minseok says but there's no malice or anger in his words. He sounds tired. "You only end up hurting yourself further. Joonmyun wouldn't-"
"Stop saying what Joonmyun would have wanted!" Zitao snaps, glaring at Minseok who stands his ground. "Joonmyun died. "You're not psychic Minseok so please stop acting like you are. I don't want to know what Joonmyun would have wanted!"
"Zitao," Minseok murmurs, curls his warm hands around his wrist again, sends a soft, soothing wave of coldness through Zitao's system.
"I just want him back," Zitao says wearily. The big bubble of anger inside him deflates as sadness washes over him once more, fresh tears fall from his eyes. With a snap of his fingers, the image of Joonmyun and Joohyun washes out and the Mirror turns into an ordinary basin of water, no traces of Joonmyun left behind.
Zitao collapses onto Minseok as he cries, sadness and sorrow claiming him yet again and this time Zitao succumbs fully, lets the pain claim him until he's dizzy, breathless with it. The last thing Zitao hears before the world goes black is Minseok murmuring softly.
Rest now, Zitao. .
The voice sounds like it comes from somewhere far away. If one could speak underwater, Zitao thinks that it would sound something like that. He hears his name again but he's so tired. His limbs no more willing to cooperate than his brain.
There's a soft chuckle coming from somewhere. And then: "Zitao, my peach. Wake up."
Zitao sits up so fast his head feels like it's going to fall up. He's dizzy but fights the nausea off because of the voice. Zitao doesn't have to look far because the face hovering above him, the one who has been calling out his name is Joonmyun.
Joonmyun with moist hair, crinkling eyes, wrapped into a fluffy bathrobe. Zitao's head is perched on Joonmyun's bare thighs, fingers curled in the white terry cloth of Joonmyun's robe. Zitao sits up so fast Joonmyun barely manages to pull back so that their heads don't collide in a painful crash of foreheads.
There he is, looking at Zitao with furrowed eyebrows, worry lingering in his beautiful eyes. His moist bangs are sticking to his forehead, stubble present on his chin; Zitao doesn't think he ever has been more beautiful than this. Unable to say anything, Zitao settles for throwing his long arms around Joonmyun, hugging him tightly, basking in the scent of Joonmyun's vanilla scented shower gel.
Then, Joonmyun laughs; this warm, melodious sound. Zitao knows exactly how his face looks when he laughs - beautiful. Everything about Joonmyun, how his eyes wrinkle at the corners to the cute way his nose scrunches up and the way he smiles; wide, showing off his small front teeth. Joonmyun smiles with his entire body - like a personified ray of sunlight. Technically that's Chanyeol, Zitao muses, but Joonmyun is a dozen times more attractive than Chanyeol will ever be.
"That was sudden," Joonmyun comments when Zitao pulls back, his heart fluttering at the sound of Joonmyun's voice. Zitao's hands travel from Joonmyun's narrow shoulders to the front of his robe; his large palms splaying on Joonmyun's chest, covered by the terry cloth.
"You died," Zitao tells him seriously. Eyes searching Joonmyun's for something, anything.
"Oh," Joonmyun says, tongue flickering over his bottom lip. "Okay?"
"No, not okay! It was horrible!" Zitao says, frowning. "You died in front of me, shielding me. And I- there was nothing I could do."
Zitao expects Joonmyun to react in some way that will let Zitao know that this is just a dream, just his imagination playing games with him. But Joonmyun just smiles at him, warm and fond and full of love. He cups his cheek, just like Minseok had done earlier, but this time Zitao leans into the touch, enjoying the feel of Joonmyun's skin against his.
"In your dream?" Joonmyun asks after a while, voice soft. He looks at Zitao with this indescribable fondness that makes Zitao feel like he's naked for Joonmyun to see. Not just his body but his mind, his thoughts, his everything. Zitao lowers his gaze, but Joonmyun is there, fingers curling under his chin to make him look back up at him.
"It happened for real. On the werewolf mission? Over at the western lake," Zitao says quietly, biting his bottom lip before he continues, encouraged on by Joonmyun's intense nodding. "One of the werewolves came up behind me and i didn't sense it before it was too late but all of a sudden you- you were there and-"
"And?" Joonmyun asks, eyes bright.
Zitao's throat feels tight, but he swallows twice, wets his lips with his tongue.
"It ripped you apart, right in front of me! There was nothing Yixing could do because you had lost so much blood so you - you died in my arms," Zitao cries quietly, fat tears trailing over his cheeks. His eyes feel dry, like sandpaper, as if he already has been crying too much today.
"Oh, baby," Joonmyun says, gathers Zitao in his small arms, curls his smaller frame around Zitao. And it feels like home; Zitao feels safe for the first time in a while.
"You got reborn as a mortal, and I couldn't be with you anymore."
"Mm, we do get a second chance as mortals when, if we die," Joonmyun muses out loud as he runs his warm hands through Zitao's hair. It has an instant, calming effect on Zitao's body.
"The mark on my arm turned black," Zitao says, lifting his arm. The sleeve of the bathrobe falls down to expose Joonmyun's mark on his left arm, a little lower than his elbow. It's a drop; the symbol of Joonmyun's Gift - water. Joonmyun has Zitao's mark - the hourglass - on the exact same spot. It symbolizes an union - a belonging.
"It looks fine to me," Joonmyun tells him, smiling.
"But you died!" Zitao groans, looks up at Joonmyun through his tears.
Joonmyun, the God grace and kindness reincarnated, smiles warmly down at him. A small thumb wipes away Zitao's gaze, makes his vision clearer so he can take in all of Joonmyun's stunningly good looks, as well as witness the clear love in his eyes. Zitao feels incredibly lucky to exist in the same time and space as this man, and even luckier to be allowed to love this man, as well as having this man's love.
"It was just a dream my sweet Tao," Joonmyun says, pressing his soft lips to Zitao's forehead. Butterflies flutter in Zitao's stomach, endorphins pumping through his system. Another kiss is pressed between his eyebrows, on the tip of his nose and then-
"I've got you," Joonmyun whispers softly before pressing their lips together in a soft, yet deep kiss that sends fireworks through Zitao's body, his mind reeling as he surrounded by the one he loves.
Zitao finally feels whole.
Yixing looks up as his doors hums; someone wants to come inside. The permission is easily given and before long, Minseok pushes the silver door open. There's a gentle frown on his face as he closes the door gently behind himself.
"How is he?" Minseok asks, sitting down on a chair that Yixing procures seemingly out of nowhere next to his own. The book Yixing has been reading falls to Yixing's lap with a soft thump as Yixing puts it down, looking over at Minseok.
"Nothing new I'm afraid. He's still asleep. It's as if he doesn't want to wake up," Yixing says softly in that light-timbred voice of his. A fondness falls over Minseok's face, then, as he looks from Yixing and his green healer robes to Zitao, curled up in bed, wrapped up like a small child.
"He's smiling," Minseok comments when he notices that the corners of Zitao's mouth are curled up. Yixing chuckles, a soft airy sound that barely carries over to Minseok.
"Yes, he does that often," Yixing says affectionately, leaning over to tuck the blanket tighter around Zitao's slender frame, pausing to push Zitao's bangs away from his forehead and eyes. "It must be nice, wherever he is."
"Well it is as they say: 'thee who sleeps; doesn't sin', isn't it?" Minseok says. Yixing nods.
Minseok remains for a couple of minutes before he gets up. "The new water Guardian is coming today. Since Yifan is out, I have to greet him."
"Oh," Yixing says. "I'll greet him when he's settled. A lot of things are happening when you're new. What's his name?"
"Jinyoung, Park Jinyoung," Minseok murmurs. "It'll not be easy for him, but I've told the others to play nice with him. Yifan will probably be a bit protective at first as well."
"Mm," Yixing agrees. "Have a safe trip."
"Keep me posted about Taozi's condition. Let me know at once if he wakes up."
"I will," Yixing says, smiling a tiny smile at Minseok before Minseok nods, turns on his heels and leaves. Yixing keeps his eyes on him until the door buzzes and the door locks. Yixing is left with his book and an asleep Zitao.