Summary: Air sprites like Sehun lose their powers over the wind if their feet touch the ground. Lost and alone one day, Sehun stumbles across a human boy and as friendships form, Sehun begins to teeter dangerously close to falling. Written for the ohunlimited exchange (and lots of hugs and thanks to Jo for being my awesome beta for this ;;)
|Sehun glides with the breeze, twirling around a spinning gust of wind before he spirals out into a gentle breath of air. He stretches out his hands, semi-transparent fingers vainly attempting to touch the sun. When he sighs, his exhale ruffles the leaves on a tree, upsetting a small bird which squawks indignantly at him.
Sehun skids to a stop, blinking at the bird sitting on a pile of twigs nestled in the dip of a branch.
“Sorry,” he says with a grin, and the bird regards him with beady eyes. Sehun laughs and hops over the tree, letting the existing breeze propel him higher and higher, until the soft white of a cloud engulfs him.
Sehun sighs happily and drifts along with the currents of the breeze, letting himself slowly fall back to Earth, like a skittish feather in the air.
The other sprites are just up ahead, whistling through the trees and parting the clouds as they move on by. Sehun trails behind, eyes wide in awe as he takes in as much as he can, from the rustling grass to the single daisy pushed against a wooden fence. He has never been this far from the valley before, and he is doing everything in his power to absorb his surroundings.
Something catches his eye - a small purple flower - and Sehun smiles, wandering towards the ground to take a closer look.
It feels like silk to the gentle touch of his fingers, a vivid purple thing with bright yellow streaks that burst from the pollen in the centre. He inhales, and is immediately overwhelmed by the sweet scent that swirls around him. He is so focused on inspecting the flower that he doesn't even notice the other air sprites have disappeared until it's too late.
He gasps, leaping high into the air, terror etched onto his face. His heart drums violently inside his chest. Sehun looks towards the forest, back towards the valley, out where he knows the ocean lies - but he sees nothing.
The wind picks up, and Sehun is thrown into the air, tangled in a current that tugs him one way before pushing him back the other. He lets out a cry, trying desperately hard to focus on what the elders had taught him - be one with the air, let it surround you - but he struggles too hard, and the wind disobeys his orders.
When it fades into nothing more than a gentle breeze, Sehun drifts down, tears in his eyes, and loneliness engulfs his heart.
He is completely alone.
He wanders across the grass for a while, hovering just above the green blades, with no clear direction and only despair for company. There are daises dotted across the lawn, leading to the steps of a house, and Sehun tries to smile at the sight of them, their yellow petals urging him to be happy, but his thoughts are clouded with confusion and loss.
It's as he is floating above the daisies, that he comes across the curious gaze of a child right before him.
Sehun jerks backwards, gasping in surprise.
He blinks; astonishment rendering him still as he looks at the small creature and its pink cheeks, its small nose, and the streak of mud across its chin.
He has never met a human child before.
“Are you a fairy?”
The boy tilts his head and furrows his eyebrows, a chubby hand reaching out to touch him. Sehun moves away immediately, casting a funnel of wind around him for protection. It eases as he realises the child is more curious than it is dangerous.
“You’re a funny fairy,” the boy says, “Where are your wings?”
Sehun supposes he should dart away, refuse to indulge the questions of the boy; but he is just as amazed by the child as the child seems to be of him.
“I’m an air sprite,” Sehun says, feeling rather small. He’s only a relatively young air sprite, and he wonders if he is the same age as the boy. The boy’s lips curl into a crooked smile.
“You’re lovely,” he says. Sehun grows hot, and he beckons a cool breeze to brush across his skin. He has been called many things before, but he has never been called lovely.
“My name is Kris,” the boy continues, and his eyes are bright like the sun, “What’s your name?”
It’s dangerous, too dangerous, Sehun thinks, and yet he ignores the way his heartbeat patters behind his ribcage, pretends he doesn’t hear the warning whispers of the elders' echo in his ears, and offers a shy smile.
“I'm Sehun,” he replies, and when he looks at Kris, his fear is laced with a newfound excitement. He moves closer, and Kris sits down, falling onto the grass and making himself comfortable.
“What’s an air sprite?”
Sehun huffs, slightly indignant at the child’s lack of knowledge.
“I’m part of the air,” he says, “I create wind.”
Kris’ mouth parts in a small ‘o’ and he shuffles a little, watching Sehun with wide eyes and an expectant gaze.
“Do it,” he demands, and Sehun sighs, before he twists his small body and sends a gust of air spiralling off, teasing at the strands of Kris’ hair as the boy laughs and covers his face.
“You’re magic!” he cries, excitement crinkling with the curve of his eyes.
“Yes,” Sehun agrees, “I am.”
"What are you doing here though?" Kris asks. His eyebrows are drawn together, a soft wrinkle creasing between them.
"I'm lost," Sehun says, and he feels childish tears well up in his eyes again. It's not difficult for an air sprite to survive alone, but comfort in a group is always preferred, particularly for a sprite as young as Sehun. Kris frowns, his lips pressed into a pout of empathy. He reaches forward as though to offer Sehun a comforting touch, but Sehun pulls back, wary.
"Please don't cry!" Kris says."Why don't you stay here with me?"
The thought sparks a curl of warmth inside him, and Sehun feels a dash of hope.
"Can I really?"
Kris laughs as Sehun sends a new breeze tumbling across the line of daisies and Sehun doesn't feel alone anymore.
Sehun makes himself at home in the hollow of a tree that watches over the backyard. He doesn't need much - no food, no water - but he takes a small piece of fabric Kris steals from his mother and uses it to create a comforting place to rest. Occasionally birds venture inside, curious about the new addition in the garden, but Sehun has never been good with words, and the birds get bored of him quickly.
When the wind whistles by outside, and leaves twirl in gusts of air, Sehun moves forward, fingers clenching around the bark of the tree as he lets the wind whip his hair around his cheeks. He breathes a sigh of sadness, and it is blown away from him, carried off with the breeze. Silently, he prays to see the familiar wisps of air sprites passing by - but he is always left disappointed.
Kris visits him every day. When the sun peeks over the horizon, Kris sneaks out of his house with sleep glazed in his eyes, his hair a mess, and dew from the grass soaking into the bottom of his oversized pyjamas. His fingers tap a soft rhythm into the bark at the base of the tree and Sehun scrambles to attention.
"Good morning," Kris says, stifling a yawn behind a chubby hand. Sehun smiles, and watches as Kris toddles off to count the snails in the garden.
They play games on the grassy hills, they create secret spaces in the patterns between the trees, and they tell stories by the light of the fireflies that cast their soft glow across a landscape doused in shadow. Sehun is glad for the distraction, because when he is around Kris, his mind doesn't wander to the other air sprites - it's just the two of them in their own small bubble, invisible to the rest of the world.
The pear tree is one of their favourite places to play, with its twisted roots, and reaching branches. It's only a child too, just like them, with a few white flowers interspersed between leaves. It hasn't produced any pears as of yet, and they often check it dutifully to see if the tree has decided to gift them with fruit.
But Kris isn't here to play today. Behind the tree, Kris is crying.
Tears fall from Kris' eyes, unbidden, as they flow down his cheeks and stain the dirt beneath him. Sehun flits about for a few moments, sending a confused breeze spiralling around the garden before he moves closer.
“What’s wrong?” he asks, breaking his silence. Kris looks up in shock, wet eyes glistening with unshed tears. His mouth presses into a wobbly line, and he observes Sehun for a few seconds. Sehun hovers by the lowest branch of the tree, his stomach doing backflips.
“I’m lonely,” Kris replies, voice thick with sadness. Sehun loops around the branch before he positions himself on top of it, legs dangling. He scuffs his feet against the bark, kicking off small flecks of brown that flutter down to the ground.
“Why are you lonely?”
Kris takes a deep breath.
“I don’t have friends,” he sniffles, and Sehun frowns.
“What's a friend?”
“Someone you can talk to.”
Sehun stretches out his legs, watching his pale skin glisten in the light of the sun. If he angles them the right way, the sun seems to shine directly through them. He sighs and tilts his head, eyelashes fluttering against stray strands of his hair.
“Oh,” he says, confusion rippling through him, “talking like this?”
Kris looks at him, and Sehun is glad he has stopped crying now. His cheeks shine with semi-dry tears and his eyes are still rimmed red, but he looks far less unhappy now.
“Doesn't that make me your friend?” Sehun says before he can stop himself, and Kris’ eyes widen considerably. His lips quirk into a grin, and Sehun blushes a little, feeling an uncharacteristic swirl of embarrassment deep inside his chest. “You know, only if you want me to be your friend.” He traces the pattern of the bark with a finger.
Kris gets to his feet, stumbling a little in the grass due to his eagerness, before he stands just below where Sehun sits on the branch.
“I do!” Kris says, and his voice is softer now, almost shy, like the smile that graces his lips.
Sehun laughs a bit, although not unkindly. A flurry of emotions spin in a hurricane inside him and he distantly thinks that Kris’ smile is far brighter than the sun that dangles in the sky above.
He remembers Jongin telling him a story once, when they were both younger. They were huddled on the branch of a tree, watching the rain fall in buckets across the landscape. The clouds were grey, and there was an eerie mist that drifted lazily by the hills, sucking the colour out of the grass, and casting a monochrome haze over everything. Jongin was shifting beside him, restless and uneasy, as the older sprites swirled a storm into being, sending gusts of wind billowing through the trees.
"Did you hear about Jonghyun?" Jongin says. His gaze shifts over to Sehun, and there's a glint of excitement in his eyes. Sehun shakes his head.
"He fell in love with a human."
Sehun blinks, eyes widening.
"Gross right? Like the elders say - humans are bad. They'll take away your magic!"
Jongin looks at Sehun, sincerity wrinkled into his forehead. But then he's giggling, poking Sehun in the side.
"Take away your magic, take away your magic," Jongin sings and Sehun swats him away with a cry. He pokes his tongue out and shifts to the far end of the branch, away from Jongin and his annoying fingers. He curls his legs up to his chest, and his gaze falls out across the drowning landscape.
"They will never take my magic," he whispers.
Sehun feels something like affection when he sees Kris wander out into the yard, yellow gumboots too big for his feet, eyebrows drawn down in concentration as he collects more snails and puts them in a bucket. He spins a fresh breeze that ruffles Kris’ hair and dances across the grass. Kris wrinkles his nose and rubs at his forehead, leaving behind a smear of dirt near his nose, and Sehun can’t suppress the laughter that bubbles from inside him.
He floats over, settling on one of the wooden stakes that embeds into the ground. Kris tells him they show which vegetables are planted where.
"Are you made out of air?" Kris asks. He asks a lot of questions about sprites, but he's never asked this before. Sehun wrinkles his nose, crossing his legs where he sits.
"Air and magic," Sehun says, a little hesitant. He inspects his legs, feeling a little embarrassed about how little he knows about his own body. He knows what the elders have taught him - air sprites are spun out of a mellow draft of air with the glaze of the sun and the salt of a sea breeze twisted into a vague figure. "We're part of the air as much as it is a part of us, but our forms can be different."
Kris drops another snail into his bucket and claps his hands together, getting rid of the loose dirt that lines the creases of his palm. He puts his hands on his hips, head tilted and curious as he looks at Sehun.
"What does that mean?"
Sehun stands up straight. He swallows, a little nervous, because he hasn't told Kris he could do this before. Closing his eyes, he relaxes into the breeze, shifting his form into the shape of a cat. He leaps around the air currents, tail curling and tangling around his legs, as Kris lets out a laugh of disbelief and jumps excitedly.
“Sehun is a cat!” he cries and Sehun grins, showing off all of his pointed teeth, before he shifts back into his usual form. Kris’ eyes sparkle with mirth.
“How did you do that?” he asks, ever curious. He blinks up at Sehun with wide eyes.
Sehun does a little flourish, and bows low.
“There’s a lot you can do with magic,” he says, as a grin tweaks at his lips and he shifts into the form of a rabbit and Kris screeches with laughter. After the laughter subsides, and Sehun returns to his original, smaller form, Kris struggles to his feet. He almost slips in a patch of mud - but Sehun catches him in a gust of wind and pushes him upright, vivid yellow gumboots sinking into the ground.
He begins to walk, trailing footprints across the grass as Sehun follows.
"Sehun," Kris says in that serious tone Sehun has learnt preludes a question, "if you're made of air and magic, is that why mummy can't see you?"
Sehun sighs, his breath creating a new breeze which drifts down, and teases at the leaves of the pear tree. He supposes he should have known Kris would figure that out sooner or later. He lets himself fall, catching an updraft as he does so.
“Only children can see us,” Sehun says, spreading his arms wide and sailing forward.
“Because they have pure-hearts and they believe.”
Kris pauses, mid-step.
“Does that mean one day I won’t see you?”
Sehun twirls around to face him. He hates how sad Kris looks.
“Not you. You will always be able to see me,” he says. As soon as the words leave his lips he feels a pang of despair, but Kris’ smile is almost worth the lie.
“Can I touch you?” Kris asks one evening. He lays splayed out on the grass, and Sehun floats above him lazily, letting the breeze propel him up a little before he falls, and then repeating the cycle with practised ease. At Kris’ question, though, he freezes, eyes widening.
“Um,” he says, because it’s not something he has ever really thought about before. His skin isn’t like a human's – a shimmering semi-transparent form that becomes a pale white complexion. He observes his fingers, stretching his arm out to its full extent, and watches the sun glint off the back of his hand.
“I’m not sure,” he decides.
Kris rolls over onto his stomach, and then shuffles forward into a kneeling position, gaze cast out and up towards where Sehun watches him.
“Can I try?”
Sehun bites his lip, and nervousness coils inside him.
He falls a little closer to Kris, and Kris reaches out with pudgy fingers, hand curling around to face palm up. He is still, and silent, and Sehun stops just above the curved fingers of his hand, before he falls the remaining distance and his feet press into the folds and creases of Kris’ skin.
Kris smiles and he slowly brings Sehun closer, careful not to accidently unbalance him.
“You’re so small,” Kris says softly, and Sehun lets out an indignant snort, deliberately ignoring the fear that still swirls inside him. He flutters
“So are you,” he replies, wrinkling his nose. Kris laughs, and from this close, the sound puffs out in a series of warm bursts of air.
Kris brings up his other hand and, with a solitary finger, gently strokes a line down Sehun’s side.
Sehun chokes on a giggle and pulls away, a blush of mortification working its way across his cheeks.
“Don’t do that!” he hisses, and Kris looks startled, pulling away quickly. “I just,” Sehun starts, sighing as he attempts to amend his outburst, “it just tickles.” Kris nods, lips pursed.
“I’m sorry,” he says, and Sehun waves his apology away with a slight flick of his wrist.
There’s a pause between them, and Sehun can feel Kris’ eyes watching him, but he looks away, embarrassment running hot inside him. To be scrutinised so closely is something foreign to him. As a creature of the air, he usually appears in glimpses and is gone in the flutter of a heartbeat.
“You’re very soft,” Kris finally says, and Sehun gasps. He shuffles awkwardly on Kris’ hand, and then sits down, hiding his face as he looks at the skin beneath him. He traces the grooves of Kris’ palm with his eyes, and focuses on settling his breathing.
“Sorry,” Kris says quietly, “I don’t want to make you sad.”
Sehun looks at him, and then he spins into the air, toes pointed and hands crossed against his chest. As soon as he leaves Kris’ palm, he feels a tinge of regret at the warmth that is lost. The air comforts him though, winding around his legs in the brush of a breeze, and Sehun relaxes into its embrace.
“I’m not sad,” he replies, “It’s just…strange for me.”
Kris nods wisely and once again, returns to watching the clouds drift on overhead, as Sehun returns to watching their reflection in his eyes.
Kris grows a little taller. His hand, once barely the size of the doorknob of the house he lives in, can now snugly wrap around a tree branch.
Sehun counts the seasons that pass. One spring, and then two, as the flowers bloom and cast their gaze out across the fields. He sees Kris every day, listens to his stories of school, celebrates when he gets full marks on a test, and then they waste away the afternoon swapping stories about their lives.
Sehun only sees another air sprite once in the seasons that pass. He is helping Kris pack away his gardening tools, when a wind whistles through the clearing carrying a touch of something different - something reminiscent of home. Sehun whips his head around, glimpsing a flash of a shimmering form in the sky a few yards away, and instead of feeling ecstatic, he feels terrified.
He hides behind the pear tree until the sprite disappears, and when Kris asks him what was wrong, he deliberately avoids an answer.
It's only later, when Sehun is curled up in his little hollow in the tree, that he wonders why he did that. He looks out at the stars, and they blink back at him. An aeroplane passes overhead, rumbling like thunder through the sky, and Sehun can see just the tip of the roof of Kris' house.
He supposes he does know why.
Clouds hang low over-head, dark and ominous, as a thunderstorm flashes in the distance. Kris plays in the grass as the wind whips at his cheeks and his small fingers tug at the roots of plants and bury into the dirt.
Sehun loves storms. He can feel the energy thrum through the air, electric and vibrant, humming in his mind and fizzing through his body. As the wind buffets his body, he lets it throw him around, tossing him up in the air before twisting him into circles and spitting him back towards the ground. There is this odd mix between a complete lack of control and overwhelming power that makes Sehun feel dizzy and light headed - but it's a feeling he adores.
“Sehun,” Kris calls, and Sehun immediately alerts at the sound of his voice. He spins around and moves closer, legs bent at the knee as he hovers in the air.
“You can shift into any shape right?”
Sehun tilts his head, but he nods slowly.
“Why don’t you shift into human-size?”
It’s actually funny, but Sehun had never really considered it before.
“I guess I can,” he replies, and, with a sigh of air, his form shimmers and blooms, his legs elongating and his arms thrown out. Kris is gaping in astonishment, as Sehun settles into his new form, craning his neck to look at himself from as many angles as he can possibly achieve.
He stretches out an arm, marvelling at the length to his fingertips.
“Are you taller than me?” Kris says, standing on his toes. Sehun laughs and moves forward to ruffle his hair, silently cheering in glee as the palm of his hand actually fits perfectly against Kris’ head.
“Just a little bit taller,” he says. Kris pouts and grabs his shoulders, forcing his feet towards the ground.
"That's because you're not standing on the ground!" he says.
Sehun shrieks and he wriggles away, fear hot as it powers through his veins. It's so close, he can almost feel the grass touch his toes, and a sob is trapped in his throat as he desperately shifts quickly into his smaller sprite form. He darts away, hiding behind a leaf on the pear tree, legs trembling and heart thudding painfully against his chest.
Kris looks at him, stunned, and a little hurt at first. But then a touch of guilt settles in his expression as he realises that he's the one that has caused Sehun's distress, and he looks apprehensive, walking over to where Sehun hides with slow steps.
"Are you okay?" he tries, and Sehun shrinks back. White flowers tickle his cheek, and he feels trapped, unable to calm his racing heart.
"I-I'm okay," Sehun mumbles, feeling a flush creep across his skin. His reaction was nothing short of embarrassing. "It's just...I can't touch the ground."
Kris is standing right by him now, crouching a little so that he's on eye level where Sehun is curled up on the lowest branch. His eyes are big and round and Sehun is forced to look away.
"You can't or you won't?"
Sehun wraps his arms around his thin frame.
"Both, I suppose."
"You're not hurt though? I thought I had hurt you! I'm so sorry," Kris says quickly, and he looks so anguished, that the hint of a smile peeks through Sehun's fear. Their eyes meet, and Sehun shakes his head.
"You don't want to know why?"
Kris shrugs. He reaches over, thumb very gently pushing back some of Sehun's hair away from his eyes. His finger lingers, and it's warm where he touches Sehun's skin. Sehun leans into the touch almost absentmindedly, his much smaller arm coming up to curl around Kris' thumb.
"Of course I want to know," Kris says, and his gaze is soft, gentle, like almost everything he does, "but I don't want to upset you more." Sehun can't help the affection that floods through him, and he wonders when Kris became so much older.
"It's okay, I'm fine," he repeats, and Kris pulls his hand away, still seemingly a little unsettled. Sehun sighs, and braces one elbow against the trunk of the tree. The wind blows strong.
The storm is nearing.
“It's because I’m a creature of the air,” he says, reciting it like how they had taught it to him, “and to touch the ground means to no longer be one with the air. To touch the ground means I lose all of my powers over the air. To touch the ground…basically means I become human.”
Kris blinks and he looks thoughtful, hair swept to the side of his face by the wind. Storm clouds swirl in the reflection of his irises, colouring them a dark grey.
“I wouldn’t mind that,” Kris mumbles, mostly to himself, as he looks out over the mist of rain in the distance.
But Sehun thinks that Kris just doesn’t understand.
To become human is to lose his entire identity.
Falling from the air is a topic held for the quietest of conversations and whispered rumours. It's a kind of fairy tale for the child sprites, who weave fantastical stories involving grotesque humans and dense protagonists. To become human is to revoke any connections to the air sprites, it is to become an outcast in their ranks, a name wiped from the records.
On that rainy night all those years ago after Sehun had talked to Jongin, he had approached one of the older sprites.
"What happened to Jonghyun?" he had asked. The sprite had glanced at him, and Sehun only just saw the flicker of sadness and fear before his eyes closed off.
"It is best you forget about him," the sprite had said in his deep voice.
And that was the last time Jonghyun's name was mentioned.
"Don't you miss the others?" Kris asks one evening. It’s a dusty spring, and there is the sweet smell of flowers that lingers with the last golden specks of sunlight. Sehun is chasing a dandelion seed, watching as it sways forward and then drifts away as he sends it off with a gentle breeze.
“I used to,” he says, wrinkling his nose a little forlornly as he looks at the grass in the dull light. Dark shadows are cast from each blade, and Kris’ fingers bury between them. "But I have a friend now, that's enough." He bites his lip shyly, and when he glances up, Kris' grin is so wide, it looks like it's about to split his face in half.
“Is that so?”
"Shut up," Sehun huffs, although there's no real bite to it.
Sehun presses his lips together and settles on Kris’ knee, his own legs curling up against his chest. Kris absently reaches out and begins to stroke his thumb softly against Sehun’s shoulder. Sehun shivers and does his best to ignore the warmth that blossoms inside him.
Kris watches him, eyes glinting in the sunlight.
"Didn't you have friends back home though? With the sprites?"
"I did I guess. Air sprites move around all the time though. We're not supposed to become too attached."
Kris ' lips twist in a wry smile.
"Oh," he says softly, "that's a little sad."
"Yeah, I guess it is," Sehun muses, and he desperately tries to ignore the suffocating desire to curl up against Kris forever.
Sehun spots Kris as soon as he gets home from school. Immediately he smiles, and makes his way down, flitting about in the air, before he spins a whirlwind around Kris’ head and sends his hair flying. Kris laughs and swats at him.
“Sehun I know you’re there, stop being silly.”
Sehun grins and comes to a stop, settling himself down on the top of Kris’ head, fingers curling into the dark strands of hair.
“How was school?” he asks, and Kris sighs.
“Same as usual. But I think I made a friend today!”
Sehun feels his smile quiver, and he wonders why. Annoyance swirls in his stomach, but he ignores it.
Kris nods, and the movement is so harsh, it almost sends Sehun flying off.
“Yeah, he is really nice. He is called Yixing and he can play piano!”
Sehun doesn’t know what a piano is, but he thinks that it must be stupid.
“Oh,” he says, “well that’s good.”
Everything inside him screams otherwise, and Sehun struggles to restrain himself. He manages to maintain a blank expression, but a chaotic breeze swirls around them both, and Sehun knows it has everything to do with him.
"Sehun," Kris says, a little stern, "what's the matter?"
Perhaps his facade hadn't been good enough.
"Nothing," Sehun says shortly, "I'm just happy for you."
Sehun darts away, and spends the rest of the afternoon avoiding Kris in his home inside the hollow tree.
Kris’ conversations now frequently revolve around his favourite topic – Yixing. He tells Sehun about how Yixing walked into the glass door at school and they laughed so hard they cried, how Yixing sings in the school choir and he has the voice of an angel, how they have their own hideout behind an old caretaker’s shed. Sometimes he spends hours detailing every aspect of Yixing’s smile; how his eyes crinkle, and his teeth glisten in the light, and a dimple indents his cheek.
Sehun feels jealousy glimmer in the heat of a kindling fire deep inside his chest. He quells it with a smile, but it still simmers, dark embers ready to ignite at any given moment.
Yixing comes over one afternoon, and Sehun stays hidden behind the branches of trees, between leaves of neighbouring shrubs. He watches the two friends as they play around the garden, talking and laughing, and Sehun remembers all of Kris’s stories about Yixing, all the small details about everything he does, but he doesn’t see the sun in Yixing's smile. Yixing's laugh doesn't remind him of the summertime, and the dimple in Yixing's cheek just seems annoying.
Kris and Yixing spend a while splayed out on the grass, their elbows together, and their pinkies just touching. Yixing points out the formations of clouds above, smiling all the while, as Kris just watches him with a soft gaze, a hint of sadness and longing in his eyes.
Sehun wishes he could be the one beside Kris, stretched out with the grass tickling his knees. He would clasp Kris’ hand in his own, fingers entwined together, and Kris wouldn’t be sad anymore.
But then Kris stops.
Kris grows quiet if Sehun mentions Yixing, confliction passing across his face in a twitch of self-restraint.
He comes home from school one day, face impassive and eyes devoid of their usual spark. He is almost twelve years old now, or so he tells Sehun, but his face is still round and his smile is still crooked and Sehun still thinks he looks the same as he always has.
“What is it?” Sehun asks, concern unfiltered as he watches Kris carefully. Kris brushes him away and sits on the grass with a thump. His shoulders slouch forward, and he seems to cave in on himself, posture curving down, hair falling across his eyes.
“It’s nothing,” he says, but Sehun moves closer, touching the tip of Kris’ nose with an outstretched hand.
“You can talk to me,” he says, and he falls onto Kris’ knee, curling his own legs up beneath him, fingers clenched into the grooves of Kris’ denim jeans where they bunch up around the knee.
Kris looks at him, and he sighs. The sound creates a soft whisper in the air, and Sehun distantly muses that the motion is reminiscent of the powers of an air sprite.
“I kissed him,” Kris says quietly, and a breeze wanders aimlessly between them, tugging at the dark strands of his hair. Sehun tilts his head, his hands caressing Kris’ knee almost subconsciously. He leans forward, but Kris avoids his gaze.
“Who?” Sehun prompts, although he thinks he already knows the answer.
“Yixing,” Kris replies, and with the sinking of his heart, Sehun’s thoughts are confirmed.
“I just--" Kris begins, but his sentence fades to nothing, choked back by emotion and pain. He inhales deeply, a little shaky, and tries again. “I just didn’t think, I mean, I couldn’t think, not when he was looking at me like that, with his perfect smile and telling me how much I mean to him – I just couldn’t.”
Sehun swallows, feeling empathetic at the utter defeat etched across Kris’ face before him. Suddenly Kris seems so much older, as though he has aged years in the space of just a few days – hours even. His eyes seem tired, face drawn and weary as he fights an inward battle that is expressed only through the wry quirk of lips or a twitch of his face.
“I’m sorry,” he says, and Kris finally looks at him. He brushes a finger across Sehun’s arm, as light as he can, before he offers a soft smile.
“You don’t understand Sehun,” he says, "It hurts so much to see someone you love every day, and just have to pretend you don't feel that way."
But Sehun does understand what it feels like. The affection crawls up your spine, smothers your lungs, wraps its fingers around your throat and you silently suffocate at its mercy because to suffer is better than to give in. To watch them laugh and smile and look at you with eyes you know only too well, it's better just to let it be. To be in love with someone who doesn’t notice is like a kind of torture.
Kris coughs out a dry laugh, fingers falling to play with the grass by his feet, and Sehun looks at him – he looks at Kris and maps the creases of his eyes, the curve of his lips, the slope of his nose, and Sehun chokes back his words because he finally has a name for what he feels.
It's a warm day in summer when there is a surprise visit.
"Jongin!" Sehun says, voice infused with confusion and surprise. Jongin looks older than Sehun remembers. But of course, he thinks, they've both aged many years. Jongin's smile is the same, although he seems slightly worried, swaying in the air as he crosses his arms in front of his chest.
"You never came to find us!" he says, and Sehun winces a little at the accusation.
"I just - I like it here."
"How long have you been here?"
Sehun thinks for a moment.
"About nine years."
Jongin makes a startled sound, and is about to reply when-
"Sehun, are you there?"
Sehun swallows, not missing the flash of understanding and the raised eyebrow Jongin sends him. Kris wanders down in the yard, a frown on his face as he searches for the air sprite.
"Sehun, where are you?"
Sehun swallows and doesn't meet Jongin's gaze.
"I have to go," he says, desperate to turn away. Cold fingers curl around his wrist.
"He's going to forget you, Sehun, don't do this to yourself."
Jongin's words strike his heart, riddled with bitter truth and everything Sehun has been trying to avoid. His fingers clench into fists, and he wills the thought to disappear, just for a little while - just enough for him to ignore its imminent existence.
"He won't forget," Sehun says, but the words waver, and they sound unconvincing, even to himself.
It happens gradually, like the way a stray breeze drags thunderstorm clouds in from the south. Kris sometimes doesn’t notice Sehun, or panics when Sehun seems to disappear right before him. And then one day, just like that, Kris can no longer see him.
“Sehun?” Kris cries, and his words scatter on the wind. Sehun dips and tumbles over the buffeting breeze, calling out to Kris, but Kris doesn’t hear.
“I’m right in front of you,” Sehun whispers, but all Kris can hear is the mournful moan of the wind.
Sehun takes residence in the pear tree and feels hot tears trickling across his pale cheeks.
He doesn’t think it is supposed to hurt this much.
Kris comes and calls for Sehun for exactly ninety-three days – Sehun counts every single one. On the ninety-fourth he just sits on the grass, gazing at the sky with a solemn expression.
“I’m so sorry,” Sehun says in a breath of wind, caressing Kris’ cheek with a soft touch of air.
But Kris just sighs and buries his face in his hands.
He stops trying after that, but Sehun doesn’t stop watching him.
One spring passes, and then another. Kris’ legs begin to stretch longer and his hair falls far over his eyes before his mother chases him out into the backyard with a pair of scissors and snips away his fringe. Sometimes Kris brings new children into the garden, a few boys and a girl and they talk and laugh and play games, while Sehun sits on the pear tree and wishes with all his heart that he could join them.
Kris becomes more confident, and his voice deepens. He becomes thinner and taller and soon he is almost constantly around other people his own age. They coo and ah when Kris talks, and Sehun wrinkles his nose and turns away and remembers a time when he was Kris’ only friend and Kris’ smile was reserved only for him.
At night, Kris lies on the grass and watches the stars twinkle overhead. Sehun sometimes hovers above him, watching the reflection shine in his dark eyes and the way his lips crinkle into a soft smile of contentment.
“I miss you,” he says, and Kris’ hair is ruffled by the breeze, but he doesn’t hear.
(Sometimes the wind breathes sighs of love as Kris’ eyelashes flutter.)
After four springs, Kris is far taller than he had been before, and becomes preoccupied with some kind of new game. His mother puts two poles in the garden and draws white lines on the grass with paint. Kris dashes around the garden with his friends, throwing a ball and laughing at each other, before aiming it through the baskets hanging on the poles. Whenever it goes in, Kris hi-fives them all and runs around with his hands in the air, and Sehun laughs, the happiness contagious.
Sometimes Sehun helps him out, providing a small brush of air to push the ball that little bit further through the basket, just to see Kris smile. Kris often salutes the air when that happens and makes some comment about how even the wind is on his team, and even though he knows Kris can’t see, Sehun gives a soft smile and salutes him back anyway.
The more Kris develops into his young-adult body, the more Sehun feels his heart thud painfully at an accidental catch of his gaze.
He sketches sharp features in the white wisps of clouds, the soft bow of plump lips, and the hard set of eyebrows complemented by a gentle gaze. Sehun sighs and lets his eyes fall shut as he drifts on a lazy draft of wind, twirling in his motion to send the cloud whirring around him like a corkscrew.
Perhaps he should focus on setting the right wind hurtling through the south, or make sure the breeze is light enough around the new buds of spring to offset the pollen from their yellow tips, but Sehun is far too lost in dreams about warm touches and wide gummy smiles and Kris.
Kris brings a pretty girl to the garden one afternoon. He has grown into a handsome young man, with a perfect jaw-line and dark, intense eyes. His hair is a much lighter colour now, the brown washed into a more unnatural gold, but Sehun thinks it suits him all the same.
The girl follows him, her lips pink as she smiles, fingers entwined with Kris’ own. She giggles against his arm and Kris smiles down at her and Sehun suddenly feels nauseous.
He flutters down towards them, cradled by a gentle summer breeze.
“It’s beautiful out here,” the girl says, as Kris leads her over the grass. Kris bends down and plucks a yellow flower, before he slips it into the hair tucked behind her ear. The girl blushes, and Sehun feels angry, a bright rage that sweeps through him and sends out a flurry of wind.
The girl turns her head away from the wind and Kris pulls her close, brushing away the leaves that catch in her hair.
They look at each other for a long moment, just a mere breath away before Kris leans forward and kisses her softly.
Sehun feels something shatter inside him, and it scatters into pieces with the wind.
He curls his hands into fists to stop them from trembling.
But it’s not right, he thinks, when Kris brings the girl over a few afternoons in a row. There’s something so very wrong about it all. Sehun lets a breeze tangle her hair and he darts around the two of them, frowning – contemplating. He sees it in the slight tremble of Kris’s hand, the flash of hesitation when she presses closer against him, the ghost of unhappiness in the press of his lips, and the lack of affection in his eyes. And it takes Sehun a few tumbling thoughts to compare it to before, to see that there is something so very different about the way Kris looks at her, and the way he looked at Yixing.
“What are you doing?” Sehun whispers, and Kris is looking right through him, but Sehun moves closer anyway. He reaches out a hand, fingers just touching the skin of Kris’ nose. “You don’t love her.”
Kris laughs at something the girl says, and Sehun swallows the knot of despair that sticks in his throat. He sighs and presses a light kiss to his cheek, caressing the soft skin.
“Just be happy,” he says, and as he turns away, he misses the way Kris’ eyes widen, and the hand he brings up, slowly and confused, to touch at his cheek.
Sehun is carefully mending a broken tree branch when he hears his name. It is carried as a ghost across the breeze, and Sehun perks up, eyes narrowing in the dark. He lets the breeze carry him, closer and closer, until he sees the silhouette of a figure that slumps against the pear tree.
“Sehun,” Kris says, “Sehun.”
And Sehun is drowning in the way Kris speaks his name.
Kris sighs, eyes falling shut as the moonlight dips his eyelashes in white silver. “Were you really just an imaginary friend?”
Sehun shifts his form, becoming taller and longer – becoming human-sized. It feels better that way, as though he has more power. He hovers close to the ground, as close to Kris as he can go, and he brushes the back of his palm across Kris’ cheek.
Kris shivers, feeling a cold wind caress his face.
“Is that you?” he whispers and Sehun feels a tear roll down his cheek, stifling a sob that catches in his throat.
“It’s me,” he breathes and Kris’s hair ruffles slightly. He blinks his eyes open and swallows, looking just past where Sehun is.
“You are there, aren’t you? I thought I could feel you the other day.”
Sehun rests his forehead against Kris, as both hands cup his cheeks. He exhales, and he sees Kris’ lips pull into a smile, the glisten of white teeth just peeking through the gap of his lips.
“I miss you Sehun. You were my best friend.”
Sehun’s arms wind around him, and his nose dips into the junction between Kris’ shoulder and neck. It feels so right, just to be near Kris, to hold him – he wants Kris to be happy more than anything else. He squeezes his eyes shut and breathes in deep, inhaling everything that it means to be Kris and letting his head spin at the intimacy of their contact.
And then, tentative fingers creep up his spine as a large hand settles on his back, and Sehun gasps.
He jerks backwards, eyes wide in alarm as Kris looks up at him – actually looks at him and sees – and Kris seems just as shocked as Sehun feels.
“Sehun?” he asks, and his voice cracks halfway through the word, the emotion constricting his throat.
Sehun nods violently, moving closer again, hesitant in case whatever magic has fallen upon them is just as quickly snatched away.
“You can see me?” he asks, and Kris grins, scrambling to his feet in excitement.
“I can see you.”
Sehun reaches out, touching his shoulder, before pushing the boundaries a little further as he places the other hand on Kris’ waist.
“It must be because you still believed in me,” Sehun whispers, “but I’ve never – I’ve never heard of this happening before.”
“Hey,” Kris says, a sparkle in his eye, “I’m still taller than you.”
Sehun snorts and realises that he is in fact, just a little shorter than Kris in his human-form, even though his feet are still a good few centimetres from the ground. They look at each other, and Sehun takes in everything, from the joy that circles inside Kris’ eyes to the way his hands tremble in the fists at his sides.
“Kris, I-” Sehun begins, but then he is surrounded by warmth, enveloped by long arms that pull him close against Kris’ chest, pressed so tight he can hear the dull thud of Kris’ heart beat echo in his ears.
“I missed you so much,” Kris whispers fiercely, his lips pressing against Sehun’s hair.
And Sehun can do nothing but fall in love with him all over again.
Kris is so much older now. It's his last year of school, and he has no time for the games they used to play together when they were younger. Instead, he stretches out across the grass with a pile of intimidating textbooks as he reads through them with a look of concentration pressed between furrowed eyebrows. Sehun floats around him, easily enough occupied by watching Kris work, smiling fondly when he lets out small exclamations of joy after getting a correct answer.
"Don't chew on your pen," he says, and Kris dutifully removes his pen from his bottom lip. It leaves a dark ink stain, and Sehun covers a laugh, swallowing his amusement.
Kris mumbles a series of equations out loud, and Sehun sighs, a wind rustling the flowers of the pear tree. He drifts over, fingers trailing over the white petals, their insides speckled with black spots. A caterpillar crawls over a leaf, and Sehun gently blows it off the tree. As usual, there is no sign of any fruit, just a series of pubescent buds waiting to flower.
Sehun turns to go back to where Kris is, but as he twists around, he is greeted with large eyes, and his favourite smile is less than a breath away from him.
"What are you doing?" Kris asks. Sehun feels tiny beneath Kris' gaze, swallowed up entirely by the dark irises before him.
"I was just checking the pear tree," he replies coolly. He raises an eyebrow, "why, what are you doing? Shouldn't you be studying?"
"I thought it was time for a break."
He reaches his hand out, and Sehun almost automatically moves over to stand on his palm. Kris looks at him, and something sad flickers across his eyes.
"Are you lonely being here with me, Sehun?" he asks, "I don't ever want you to feel like you have to stay."
Sehun shakes his head adamantly.
"I want to stay!"
"It's just, you know, for those years that I couldn't see you, I thought that maybe you would've gone back to find the sprites."
"You're my friend," Sehun says firmly, crossing his arms across his chest, "and I don't want to leave you."
Kris ducks his head to hide a smile, but it's far too wide to stay hidden. When he looks up again, a flush decorates his cheeks.
“You're a great friend,” Kris replies, and there is a happy twinkle in his eye that Sehun wants to capture and keep forever in a glass jar.
Sehun begins to spend almost as much time in his human-sized form as he does in his smaller sprite form. It makes him feel more like Kris, as though they're just two normal boys hanging out in his backyard. Sometimes Kris links their fingers together, or sits close enough so their shoulders touch, and when Sehun floats too high, he gently brushes a hand against Sehun's ankle to tell him to come lower.
To Sehun, the air is comfort. It's all he has ever known and a different life is almost impossible to imagine. But now Sehun dreams of grass between his toes and warm fingers linked with his own. He wants to be able to hold Kris properly, to be solid and human, not just a whisper of the air. There is a chasm between them that had been unnoticeable at first, but as Sehun becomes more aware of its existence, it only seems to widen.
It's a cold afternoon, and Kris is shooting hoops in the backyard, easing the stress of exams. Sehun thinks Kris looks the most beautiful when he is playing basketball, because the love he has for the sport seems to exude in a bright aura around him. He flies effortlessly through the air, spinning and twisting his body as he sends the ball flying through the hoop time and time again. When his feet lift from the ground, Sehun imagines him as an air sprite, a creature of the air just like him, because for that single moment, Kris seems to have the ability to fly.
"Hey," Kris calls, and Sehun snaps out of his thoughts. Kris has been playing for at least an hour now, and his jumper lies to the side, discarded in favour of keeping cool. His hair is stuck to his forehead, skin shining with sweat as he beckons Sehun over.
"Do you wanna learn how to play?"
Sehun looks at Kris, nose wrinkling as he inspects the basketball. Kris has explained it to him once before, but Sehun had been far too distracted by the way Kris' eyes lit up and how he waved his hands emphatically.
"Okay," Sehun replies. If anything, he just wants to see Kris get all excited again.
So Kris stands close to him and shows him how to throw and catch and shoot it through the hoops. He laughs when Sehun overestimates the distance, and his eyes crinkle, smile wide enough to display his gums. He whines when Sehun cheats and uses a gust of wind to send the ball soaring through the net, but Sehun just pokes his tongue out, and loudly exclaims that basketball is even more fun than he expected.
They play until the sky begins to darken and Sehun can see the faint outline of the moon against the golden sunset. Kris lets out a sigh of contentment and falls backwards onto the grass, legs and arms splayed out and smile across his lips. Sehun wanders over. He floats on his stomach, arms crossed in front of his chest, as he looks down at Kris.
"Hey," Kris says, and he reaches out, drawing Sehun even closer. The motion disrupts Sehun's position, and his hands come out to steady himself, pressing against Kris' chest. They're so close, he thinks, too close.
“Sehun,” Kris says, and he seems to be uncertain. The heartbeat that drums against Sehun’s fingers trips and falls over itself. Sehun looks down at him, losing himself within the dark eyes that stare right back.
He sees something there, something that is reminiscent of the way Kris had looked once upon a time – the way he had looked at Yixing. The realisation tumbles around inside Sehun’s chest and ties everything into knots.
Kris reaches out, a finger pressing into Sehun’s cheek with the softest touch, before he traces a line across his jaw.
“Can air sprites fall in love?” Kris whispers, and Sehun almost misses his words because all he can feel is the warmth of Kris’ breath against his lips, and the touch of his fingertips.
Yes, air sprites certainly can fall in love.
It's the night before Kris' final exam, and Kris has locked himself inside his room to study. Sehun is sitting on the branch of the pear tree, gaze turned out towards the house. He can see Kris' silhouette by the window, huddled over his desk and writing furiously. Sehun smiles, and he kicks his legs out from the branch, swinging them restlessly. It would be nice, he thinks, to be able to hold Kris in his arms, to be warm and soft and human together. As the lights in Kris' room flicker off and the house is shrouded in darkness, Sehun curls his fingers into a fist and makes a decision.
He looks up at the stars, and he closes his eyes, letting the gentle breeze carry him of the branch. He inhales, and lets his body go limp, floating on the current of air that lazily drifts across the grass. The stars twinkle above him, and Sehun feels an odd sense of peace settle inside him.
More than anything, he knows that he wants this.
With one last glance towards where he knows Kris is sleeping, Sehun slowly lowers himself closer to the grass. He swallows, unable to look away. Grass tickles at his toes and he almost jerks back on mere reflex, but then he sets his jaw, and steps down.
Sehun lets out a gasp when his foot touches the ground, and a whirlwind spins around him engulfing him in a scream of wind that wraps around his body and whips his hair across his face. Terror chokes his lungs. He is going to die. The elders must have been lying and air sprites don't just lose their powers, they lose their life. He is helpless against the forces that send air funnelling out of him. Fear flashes through his mind. The stars above swirl in and out of his vision, and Sehun struggles to keep his eyes in focus, desperate to keep some kind of hold on reality.
He is going to die and Kris will never even know.
His heartbeat thunders in his ears, and his nerves are set alight with fire as he lets out a small cry and everything goes white.
He wakes when it is light, and the first thing he notices, is that everything feels heavy. His limbs are lead, and when he lifts his hand to the light, his skin is completely opaque. He turns his hand around and marvels at its solidity, the pale pink of his skin stretching across his arm and every crease of his palm.
Everything is much smaller, the blades of grass are crushed beneath his weight and the pear tree seems to be shorter than he ever imagined. He gets to his feet and dusts off his clothes, turning around in awe to look at long legs which poke out from his waist and the length of his arms.
“I’m so tall,” he breathes with a soft laugh.
Sehun turns to see Kris, wide eyed and gaping at him.
"I just finished my exam and I came to tell you and you - what happened?"
"Surprise?" Sehun says weakly, a shy smile tugging at his lips. Kris seems lost for words. He moves forward, and reaches out, fingertips trailing across Sehun's skin, up his arm, over his jaw.
"You're human," Kris whispers, "Why?"
Sehun looks at him, and measures the distance between them in heartbeats. Kris' fingers are paused just against Sehun's cheek, and his hand cups Sehun's jaw, wonder still glinting in his gaze as it drifts over Sehun's face. Sehun steps closer, a little unsteady and not used to being upright quite like this, and even though Kris is less than a foot away from him, nothing feels close enough.
"Because," Sehun says, "I wanted to be human when I told you I love you."
He feels his face grow hot, but his gaze remains resolute. Kris' hand curls against his hip, and his lips turn up in a crooked smile. Every point of contact sends sparks of fire igniting against Sehun's skin.
"Say that again," Kris says softly, his voice deep as it rasps through his throat. A shiver trickles down Sehun's spine.
"I love you," he repeats. "I love--"
Sehun’s words are trapped by the soft kiss against his mouth. The kiss is gentle, but firm and needy, and Kris pulls away slowly, as though not wanting to move at all. Sehun smiles and kisses him again, a little harder, a little more desperate, until Sehun is laughing and Kris is grinning against his lips. They stumble backwards, Kris bringing his arms around to hold Sehun as close as he can, hands splayed out against Sehun's back. Sehun's fingers tangle in Kris' hair as he presses sloppy open-mouthed kisses against Kris' cheeks until they fall onto the grass, still wrapped around each other.
"You were never this clingy as an air sprite," Kris mumbles against Sehun's mouth. Sehun just ignores him in favour of kissing him again. When he pulls back, he looks down at Kris, hair a mess, cheeks dusted a light pink, mouth swollen and red.
"Hey," Kris says quietly, "I think I love you too."
Sehun smiles, and is about to kiss him again when he spots something out of the corner of his eye. He blinks, and wonders if its real.
"Oh my gosh," he says, and he scrambles off Kris, walking over to the pear tree with quick steps. He peers through the dark leaves and the green buds of flowers yet to come.
"Kris," he says, excitement wavering in his voice. Kris looks up from where he lies, confusion flashing across his face.
"What is it?"
"There's a pear..." Sehun trails off, as Kris' eyes widen and he leaps to his feet.
"A pear? An actual pear?"
Sehun nods and points to where the fruit sits against the branch. It's only relatively small, but it seems healthy - a round thing hidden amongst the leaves. Kris peers closer.
"Oh my god, it's a miracle," Kris says and Sehun snorts, covering his face with the palm of his hand. Kris pulls him closer with one arm wrapped around his waist, and buries his nose into the top of his hair, kissing him softly.
Sehun thinks back to that one conversation with Jongin so many years ago, and knows that he would give up his magic a thousand times over for this. And besides, he thinks, as Kris sighs and his chest expands against Sehun's back, heartbeats leaping in time, this is a different kind of magic.