The Sky Between Us, and The World Ahead [Chapter 4A/20]
Authors: dreaminginside and seeeno
Rating: NC-17 overall
Genre: Adventure, Romance, Drama
Characters: Henry, Ryeowook, Sungmin, Yesung
Summary: Home is behind, the world ahead, there are many paths to tread, through shadow to the edge of night, 'till the stars are all alight.
Glossary | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4A | Chapter 4B | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6A | Chapter 6B | Chapter 7A | Chapter 7B | Interlude | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9A | Chapter 9B | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 20 | Epilogue
“And that,” Ryeowook explains slowly, glancing at the enraptured faces with amusement, giving a genuine smile, though tinged with sleepiness. “Is the sun.”
Jongwoon and Sungmin sit slack jawed as the sun rises above the hills, casting red and yellow hues across the sky. Jongwoon lets out a hiss after a few moments of intense staring, rubbing his eyes furiously and blinking quickly, spots dotting his vision.
Henry continues sleep, light snores coming from his still form as he curls around himself, face plastered to the cool grass as the rest slowly rise from the depths of light slumber, Jongwoon having shook Ryeowook awake the moment he saw the fiery ball begin to rise in the sky, convinced that the world was ending around them.
“You mean to tell me,” He says skeptically, glancing at Ryeowook with questioning eyes, still feeling the sting of looking into the fire for too long, “That that fiery ball is what is keeping everything up here alive and growing?”
“Yes,” Ryeowook says amusedly, deciding to play teacher and taking in Sungmin’s expression of determined learning and Jongwoon’s skepticism in with no small amount of sparkle in his eyes, almost tempted to kick Henry awake so he could witness it as well. “It signals what we call ‘daytime’. And it would do well not to look into it for too long though, as I’ve see you’ve learned. You’ll go blind that way.”
“Daytime,” Sungmin says, rolling the word experimentally around his tongue. “Is that like the waking hour? Where everyone has to get up?”
“Well you don’t have to, I suppose, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would want to sleep with the sun in the face,” Ryeowook chuckles. “Most people prefer to do their work during the day but some jobs require workers at night.”
“You mean you have a choice?” Sungmin blinks incredulously. “Wow...So many things are different.”
He admires the sunrise by facing a little away from the sun, fascinated by the swirl of colors, from indigo to periwinkle to the bright eggshell blue at the very tip of the sky.
Jongwoon still isn’t entirely convinced that the world isn’t going to end. After all, how could a giant fiery mass in the sky mean anything other than catastrophe? Not to mention, this invisible force keeps playing over them all, rustling the leaves and tickling the hair at the back of his neck. A particularly strong gust makes him shiver.
“It’s a little windy,” Ryeowook comments offhandedly, bursting out laughing as Jongwoon warily eyes nothing in particular. “It’s just the wind, Jongwoon. Moving air.”
Jongwoon arches an eyebrow. “But how does air just move on it’s own?”
Ryeowook shrugs. “I don’t know. It just does. One of the many wonders of Earth, I guess.”
Sungmin and Jongwoon just gaze at him blankly, eyes blinking slowly, and that’s when Ryeowook sighs, repressing the small smile threatening to cross his face at any moment, not wanting to take too much amusement in the sheltered men’s lack of knowledge.
“You have no idea what Earth is, do you?” Ryeowook’s voice is gentle as he watches Jongwoon huff, not liking not knowing any of the things that Ryeowook is talking about, and Sungmin nods sagely, eager to learn all the information he can on this supposed new world.
“Of course they don’t, Wook,” Comes a sleepy voice, and Ryeowook looks over to see Henry rising with a yawn, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and then shading them from the bright rays of the sunrise, frowning at having been woken up by the commotion. “They probably think it’s something that you’re supposed to eat.”
Sungmin covers his mouth to muffle a laugh at the put out expression on Ryeowook’s face, the other man evidently having enjoyed playing their teacher and letting them in on all the marvelous secrets of the surface world.
“How nice of you to join us, sleeping beauty,” Ryeowook huffs, steadfastly ignoring Henry and turning back to Jongwoon and Sungmin, flushing a bit at their amused gazes. “But this idiot is wrong, you certainly can’t eat it. The Earth is where we stand now, and everything you can see from here, it encompasses all that we live on.”
"Even your town is on Earth," Henry chimes in. "Even though normally people live on the Earth, not in it. Next thing we know we'll fall off a boat in the middle of the ocean and stumble upon a colony of merfolk or something."
Ryeowook snorts, but Sungmin's eyes light up with recognition. "Oh, I meant to ask you last night but we all fell asleep, what is the ocean?"
"It's a huge body of water. Actually, there is more than one ocean, but they all connect to each other anyway and they cover most of the Earth. I mean, there's a lot of land but almost all of the Earth is water. And we call the water oceans!" Henry rambles, waving his arms about in broad gestures to demonstrate the grandeur. Sungmin and Jongwoon exchange bewildered looks, and Ryeowook shrugs.
"He's the only one between the two of us who's seen the ocean," he explains. "He's not from the same country as I am, and I was never allowed to leave the capitol, where I'm from. Which reminds me," he continues, not noticing as Sungmin opened his mouth to ask him to explain the notion of countries, "we have never heard of your people. And clearly you didn't even know this world existed. So I wonder how we understand each other?"
"What do you mean?" Jongwoon queries, quirking his head to the side and knitting his eyebrows. "I mean, I guess since we're all men, and not demons or anything," he pauses as Sungmin knocks him in the back of the head, "why wouldn't we understand each other?"
"Because not everyone speaks the same language," replies Henry. "It took me a long time to master this one, and even still I have problems sometimes."
“Is that what you were muttering to yourself earlier?” Sungmin asks curiously, amazed that there could be more than one tongue that is spoken, let alone a whole world full of people that he was unaware of.
Henry nods and speaks a few quick words, more fluid than what usually falls upon Sungmin’s ears, and he blinks slowly, having not understood a word of it. Henry laughs and the smile reaches his eyes, patting Sungmin’s leg as if to say ‘See?’. Ryeowook watches the scene with thinly veiled humor as Jongwoon stares on as well, storing all of the new information in his head.
“As much fun as this little lesson, we should probably get a move on,” Ryeowook says finally, almost unwilling to interrupt the good naturedness having formed between them after so much hardship since knowing each other, but eager to get on the road again, and away from the Capitol. “We won’t be able to travel at night, so it’s best to try and make as much progress as we can with the sun on our side.”
“We’ll need to stop somewhere for supplies too,” He continues, looking at their combined belongings amounting to naught but the shirts on their backs, and still quite damp at that. “And if we don’t get some new clothes, then I’d wager we’ll catch our deaths.”
"What happened to that money you took when--" Henry starts, and Ryeowook stomps on his foot. "Oww! Hey, what was that for?"
"I still have it, I think," Ryeowook interrupts huffily, rummaging in his pocket and pulling out a handful of coins. He opts to count them instead of meeting Jongwoon and Sungmin's curious gazes. "Hmm... I think some of it fell out in the river though, it's less than I thought. At the very least, we should be able to afford some food, and new bandages for Sungmin. Jongwoon will probably need them too."
Sungmin flushes a bright shade of pink. "I'm okay, really. Let's just get some clothes and food first." He makes to stand up and winces rather obviously when he straightens out. Jongwoon sighs, deciding between being amused and annoyed.
"You really have to stop playing the martyr, Min," he says, shaking his head. "It's okay to rely on others, you know."
Sungmin bites his lip and looks away. There's an awkward silence for a bit, when Henry clears his throat to avoid the growing tenseness. "How about first of all, we figure out where on Earth we are? We can't get to the port town if we find out we're going the wrong way."
Ryeowook snorts as Henry and Jongwoon and Sungmin simply stare at each other, as if waiting for the answer to come from thin air.
“Well they certainly aren’t going to know any more than we are, Henry,” He says with a touch of laughter in his voice as they blink at him owlishly, though he admits he is a bit worried about their sense of directional peril as well, the ocean still too far to be able to tell a definite direction of where to go. “I think our safest bet is to follow the river stream until we reach a town, then we can get our supplies and find the direction of the port.”
“Though,” He pauses, a tad nervously, looking down at his feet, feeling the curious gazes of Sungmin and Jongwoon on him. “I’m afraid you three will have to do all the talking, I’m not able to be seen in any town this close to the Capitol.”
Sungmin looks ready to ask every question as to why when Henry shakes his head at him quickly, patting Ryeowook on the shoulder and avoiding the other men’s confused gazes.
“Okay,” Sungmin says slowly, eyes slightly narrowed as he sizes up Ryeowook, wondering what secrets the man holds, seeming quite secretive while they have been nothing but open, but brushes that aside. He figures Ryeowook must have his reasons, and cuts off Jongwoon when the other man looks ready to push the matter. “Henry will have to show us the ropes then, I’m afraid we won’t be much good on our own.”
Ryeowook at least has the good sense to look a little ashamed, feeling guilty for still not trusting them entirely. Even after all that Sungmin and Jongwoon have done for him, the only person he feels he can trust wholeheartedly is Henry. It's not that he wants to be wary of the other men, it's just in his nature. Or so he tells himself so he can sleep at night. He stands up, dusts off his soggy pants and starts ahead of them. "Well, what are we waiting for? Let's go." He keeps going, walking at a slow pace while the others stand to follow.
"He's not all that bad," Henry reassures them, seeing Sungmin's creased brow and Jongwoon's suspicious frown. "Just a precocious little git sometimes," he adds with a grin.
"I heard that!" Ryeowook calls over his shoulder. Henry's grin turns sheepish and he shrugs, patting the other two on a shoulder each and pushing past them to follow Ryeowook. Sungmin and Jongwoon exchange a glance, raising eyebrows at each other, when Sungmin begins to chuckle. Jongwoon starts too, and it grows until they're both full of gut-wrenching laughter. It's so contagious that Henry starts laughing too, then Ryeowook. And Henry turns around, walking backwards and laughing.
"Come on, then!" he calls behind, and Jongwoon and Sungmin jog to catch up with him.
The sun has just passed the highest point in the sky when they reach a town, small and bustling, yet easily twice the size of Jongwoon and Sungmin’s village. It’s set on the side of the river, and the buildings are more advanced than anything they’ve ever seen, spending a few moments simply gawking, eyes taking in the sights as Henry has to nearly drag them along, Ryeowook still heading the front.
Ryeowook’s head remains slightly bowed though, eyes still a little nervous as they enter town, quickly locating a clothes shop and stopping to do the calculations of the prices of clothes for four grown men in his head, cringing at the thought. He sighs before turning to the others, small frown set on his face.
“Well,” He says slowly, trying to wrench Jongwoon and Sungmin’s attention from all the fascinating sights, the people mulling around the town square beginning to give them looks, and Ryeowook absolutely cannot have that. “The good news is, we’ll be able to afford clothes and a night at the inn. The bad news is...we can’t afford anything else. Does anyone have anything worth trading?”
“How about that necklace of yours?” Jongwoon pipes up, looking in Henry’s direction and remembering the metal necklace that Sungmin has initially fished from their Sacred River. “That would be sure to bring in some coin, wouldn’t it?”
Henry looks halfway between terrified and offended and his hand flies up to his neck as though he's afraid that Jongwoon might try to take it. "I-I can't sell this," he stutters, looking near hyperventilation. "Absolutely not."
"It's the only thing he has left from his home country," Ryeowook explains quickly, giving Jongwoon a sharp way to go genius look what you've done glare, before he rubs Henry's back comfortingly. "Don't worry, I would never ask you to sell that, Henry, you know that. He didn't know..."
"Okay, okay, I'm sorry! It was just a suggestion," Jongwoon apologizes, waving his arms defensively. "Really, I didn't mean to upset you, I'm sorry." Henry shakes his head, waving it off as he calms himself down. Sungmin frowns in thought, trying to think of something.
"Well... if we don't trade the clothes we're wearing away, I can make a fishing net out of them," he offers. "There would be a trade in fish, no? And what we don't sell we can eat."
Ryeowook's eyes light up. "That's brilliant! Yes, especially here, on the river, the fish that swim upstream are difficult to catch so they fetch a high price, too. It's hard to get the fishermen to peddle fresh fish this far inland."
Jongwoon sighs as Sungmin and Ryeowook chatter excitedly, dragging he and Henry into a shop and buying clothes carefully, Ryeowook shrinking away when it comes time to buy, but once outfitted in newer, drier, attire, they’re back to the river, Sungmin weaving a net out of their clothes.
He figures that it would be him to say the wrong thing and Sungmin end up being the only useful one between the two of them in the end anyway, mood dampened severely and trying to send apologetic glances Henry’s way, having genuinely not known the meaning behind the seemingly innocent piece of jewelry.
In the end they settle for sending Ryeowook, hood covering his head, and Jongwoon to the inn to haggle for a room with their remaining coin while Henry helps Sungmin with his fishing, keeping the fish in a bucket they managed to find for cheap, watching the older man work in awe.
“You mean you can’t fish either?” Sungmin chuckles, watching Henry’s eyes light up as he tosses another into the bucket, silver scales glinting in the diminishing sun and flailing about in its container. “You can’t fish or swim, yet you’re the only one whose seen this fair body of water that we’re looking for? You’re a funny one, Henry.”
Henry’s cheeks blush at Sungmin’s remark, embarrassment having him cast his head down, pouting at the grass as the other man ribs him.
“Seeing the ocean and being in the ocean are two entirely different things,” He insists, pout keeping his lips pursed as Sungmin watches him with amused eyes. “Besides, where I was born there was no water deep enough to swim in, I hadn’t even known of the ocean until-”
Henry trails off and that far away light enters his eyes again, and Sungmin senses he’s treading on thin ice yet again, setting down his make shift net to pat Henry on the head, giving the younger man a gentle look, bringing him back to the present.
"I can teach you how," he offers, reaching back down for the net to toss it out again. Henry blinks, so he clarifies. "You know, how to swim."
"Ohhhh, no," Henry replies, nearly dropping the bucket and all of the fish with it. "There's no way you're getting me back in the water. Nearly drowning twice is quite enough for me." Sungmin laughs heartily and Henry pouts again. His cheeks puff out in a way that makes Sungmin want to pinch them. "Why are you always laughing at me..." he bemoans.
"The point of learning to swim is so that you don't drown, silly," Sungmin chortles, shaking the net a bit in the water to wiggle out the tangles. "It's not really that hard. And swimming is fun, once you get used to it!" The net starts getting weighed down by fish, and Sungmin beckons Henry over to help him pull it in.
"Fun, he says," Henry mutters, taking the bit of net closest to Sungmin's hands so that the other man can reach out over the water to grab the other end. He doesn't want to fall in on accident. "Fun. Of all things, he calls it fun." Sungmin just chuckles again, shaking his head with a smile.
"I'm going to get you in the water one of these days," Sungmin promises. "You're not going to be traveling with a fisherman and not know how to swim; that's a blow to my pride."
Henry opens his mouth to retort when Ryeowook and Jongwoon push through the trees. Ryeowook pulls the hood from over his head, eyes shining and wearing a beaming smile, while Jongwoon is sulking and muttering curses under his breath.
"We got a room for the night!" Ryeowook announces cheerfully. "And we got it for cheap, too! And it's all thanks to Jongwoon!" he sniggers, trying not to laugh and Jongwoon's expression only darkens. Sungmin raises an eyebrow, and he scowls.
"Don't ask," he sniffs indignantly. Of course, Henry and Sungmin are curious, and Ryeowook is more than eager to tell them regardless of if they asked or not.
Ryeowook laughs as Jongwoon remains still as a statue, lips curled in a snarl and looking quite disgusted.
“We happened to find Jongwoon’s talent, charming the ladies,” Ryeowook says playfully, ignoring the disdainful glare that Jongwoon shoots him in favor of continuing, watching Sungmin muffle a chuckle behind his hand. “One look at his pretty face and the room numbers just kept falling, I’d wager if he’d taken her ‘offer’ then we would have been able to stay for free.”
Sungmin laughs so hard that tears begin to stream from his eyes, Jongwoon shooting daggers at him the entire time as Henry looks on sympathetically, muffling a snicker with his sleeve while Jongwoon isn’t looking, still finding humor in it despite pitying the man.
“You wouldn’t believe how many unholy people there are around here,” Jongwoon grumbles under his breath, glaring at Sungmin and Ryeowook, bot men laughing at him. “She had to have been at least twice my age, and propositioning me in public! The nerve!”
“Someone’s a prude,” Ryeowook teases, poking at Jongwoon’s shoulder as he watches the other man bristle, frown still pulling at his lips and face pouting as he begins to look almost offended. “What does it matter anyway, we’ve found your talent, Jongwoon!”
“Oh be nice to him, Ryeowook,” Sungmin says, amusement still filling his tone, ignoring the baleful looks that Jongwoon casts his way, nearly sending him into another spiral of laughter. “We can’t all be exhibitionists like you must be, oh how I pity your future wife.”
Ryeowook suddenly stops laughing, flinching and turning paper white. Sungmin almost doesn't catch it, so caught up in making good fun at his friend, until Ryeowook chuckles nervously, his smile a bit too wide and forced. "Yes, well..." he starts, not exactly sure of how he is supposed to reply to that. The mood seems to be completely tempered, but Henry takes pity on his friend and drapes an arm around his shoulder, elbowing him playfully in the gut.
"Are you kidding me, do you really see Ryeowook ever marrying? He looks too much like a girl to start with," he jests. Jongwoon snorts gleefully, glad to finally not be the butt of the jokes, when Henry adds, "In fact, he would probably be the wife in a relationship. Wouldn't you like to marry this blushing bride, Jongwoon?"
Sungmin can't help but start howling with laughter at the look on not only Jongwoon's face, but Ryeowook's too, doubling over and clutching at his ribs. Henry cackles right along with him, Ryeowook blushing furiously (almost proving Henry's point) and Jongwoon refusing to meet the man's gaze. Finally when Henry and Sungmin stop laughing, Sungmin wiping tears from his eyes, the mood sobers up slightly, but not as tense as it was moments before.
"It's getting late, we should probably start heading back to the inn," Sungmin pants, still catching his breath from laughing so much. "Oh, and did you two get directions to the port town?"
Jongwoon frowns and shakes his head as Ryeowook blushes slightly, having forgotten that detail entirely while jabbing fun at Jongwoon, directions having slipped his mind in favor of merriment.
“No,” He says with a tinge of embarrassment, “But we can always get them before we turn in tonight, I’d wager she’d be happy to tell Jongwoon anything he asked. But first we had better go haggle away Sungmin’s catch before it gets too late, we don’t want the stalls to have closed and let his hard work have gone to waste.”
Jongwoon squawks at the comment, cursing under his breath and pouting petulantly, turning around in a huff and not waiting for the others to catch up to him, hearing the chime of Sungmin’s laughter behind him as he gathers his catch, and Ryeowook gives him quick instructions on how to sell for the highest price, warning him against taking too little coin for such quality fish.
Sungmin nods, soaking up Ryeowook’s every word with determined eyes, wanting to be sure that he does everything he should in order to help them to the best of his ability, looking all a loyal puppy as Ryeowook instructs him.
Henry chuckles at the image, and wonders how just a few days ago these people were strangers, having felt now like he knew the men for half his life.
"I can't believe the nerve of that woman!" Ryeowook exclaims, throwing himself onto one of the cots when they finally make it back to the inn for the night. "Half a pence for each fish, as if I would ever let you sell them for that much!"
"I... really have no idea how much they're worth," Sungmin deadpans, setting the smelly pail in the corner of the room farthest away from where they will sleep. "But is it really worth getting so worked up over? I mean, she ended up offering more in the end."
"That's not the point!" Ryeowook nearly shouts, throwing his hands up in exasperation. "What she was offering, that was insulting!"
"He's really inscrupulous when it comes to getting deals sometimes," Henry whispers into Jongwoon's ear, the older man staring wide-eyed at the normally collected Ryeowook (or, as collected as he's been in the time that he's known him). "He knows how to pinch a penny or two."
"I can see that," Jongwoon whispers back, somewhat awed by the younger man's change in demeanor. Before Ryeowook can go on a tangent, there's a knock at the door. Henry rolls over his cot and opens the door, revealing the inn keeper who gave them the discount.
"I have some bathwater pumped for our guests," she offers, looking directly at Jongwoon with a bit of a dreamy expression. "You're more than welcome to come down and clean up before you all turn in for the night."
Jongwoon looks back warily, nervous of the stars dancing in the women’s eyes, laughing nervously as she enthusiastically offers to pump his bath and wash his back for him.
“That’s quite alright-”
“We would love to,” Ryeowook interrupts, looking at Jongwoon with a strange gleam in his eyes, ignoring the pleading looks sent in his direction from Jongwoon, feeling the mental pain emanating off the poor man. “Thank you, Miss.”
“Follow me then,” She says, starry eyes glued to Jongwoon as she all but leaps across the room to grab his arm and pull him to the adjacent bath house, Ryeowook and Sungmin following along with amusement, Henry the only one seeming to pity Jongwoon. “I assure you that everything is free of charge, provided with your room.”
“I hate you all,” Jongwoon hisses, looking back with a glare as he’s tugged along, woman’s grip seeming strong as steel on his wrist, unwavering and a bit worrisome. He becomes white as a sheet when they enter the bathhouse, watching Ryeowook and Sungmin still snicker at him, absorbing Henry’s sympathetic gaze gratefully. “Except for you, Henry. You’re my favorite.”
Henry beams at Jongwoon, and Ryeowook finally takes pity on Jongwoon, gently unlatching the woman’s hand from Jongwoon’s wrist and thanking her for the guide and the offer, ushering her out the door quickly as she sputters, bursting out laughing the moment she’s out of sight.
"If you need anything, all you need to do is send for me and I'll be happy to help!" she exclaims as Ryeowook nods and thanks her and shuts the screen door shut as she forlornly looks over his shoulder, catching a last glimpse at Jongwoon. Laughing to himself as he heads back, he sheds his shirt and folds it neatly, sitting it on a chair so that it doesn't get wet -- it is his only shirt left, after all.
Ryeowook has started to shed his trousers when he realizes Jongwoon and Sungmin and even Henry haven't moved at all. Henry is just crouched by the tub, playing amusedly with one of the fluffy towels the inn keeper set out for them, while Sungmin and Jongwoon are pointedly looking at anything but him, a pink tinge to their faces.
"Oh come off it, we're all men," he sighs exasperatedly. "And you, Henry, don't think you're getting off the hook that easily. We haven't bathed in days, and we were stuck in the bottom of a well and swam through a raging river and you're taking a bath whether you like it or not."
Henry wrinkles his nose petulantly. "But I don't wanna," he whines. "You know I don't like water."
"You aren't going to drown in three feet of water, you big baby," Ryeowook teases. "Come on, the faster you get in the faster you can get out. Now, strip." Sungmin chokes on air and Jongwoon just blushes harder. "You two really are prudes..." Ryeowook mutters, shedding the last of his clothes and putting a hand on his hip, standing in all his naked glory. "Do you want to clean yourselves up or not?"
"We aren't prudes," Jongwoon says in their defense, reluctantly popping the buttons on his vest and seeing Sungmin do the same. "Men just don't bathe together in our town. That's something that a husband and wife did together, usually once they'd bathed the children."
An awkward silence falls upon them for a moment before Henry starts to snicker, watching the other men pointedly avoid his and Ryeowook’s eyes as they strip down, looking extremely uncomfortable and ready to bolt to the bath. Ryeowook shares an amused glance with Henry before letting out a small laugh himself, wondering just how old fashioned the men’s village was, it being common place to have bathhouses such as this on the surface.
“Well Ryeowook is your blushing bride, is he not, Jongwoon?” Henry teases lightly, watching Jongwoon sputter and cheeks pinken, muttering about not being able to catch a break tonight. Ryeowook just puts his head in his hands, mourning that the water will probably be freezing by the time they make it into it. “You shouldn’t feel uncomfortable at all!”
“I take it back, you’re not my favorite anymore, Henry,” Jongwoon mumbles, stomping off angrily into the bath, uncaring as his clothes fall into a messy pile on the floor, towel barely covering enough to be called decent. Sungmin laughs and follows, feeling more at ease as time goes by, shooting a grin Henry’s way for the teasing.
Ryeowook sighs and goes about folding Sungmin and Jongwoon’s remaining clothes, spread haphazardly on the floor, shooing Henry sternly to the bath, finding the other’s childish dislike of water almost amusing, taking a moment to enjoy the warmth of the room before heading in after him, a swing in his hips and a smile on his face.
The moon shines in through the window, casting soft light in the room. Jongwoon and Sungmin are fast asleep on the cot nearest the window, and Ryeowook lay face up, staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep. He thinks Henry is asleep, too, until the other boy calls out to him.
"Ryeowook? Are you sleeping?" Henry whispers, so as not to wake the others. Ryeowook turns his head to face the youngest, who is turned over on his side facing him. Even in the dark Ryeowook can see there's something that's bothering him, eyes shining with something akin to uncertainty. He scoots over and pats the cot beside him softly, and Henry scampers out of bed and crawls onto the cot with Ryeowook.
"What is it, Henry?" Ryeowook asks gently, turning so that he can look at Henry proper. Henry bites his lip, eyes glancing down at the buttons on Ryeowook's shirt.
"Do you really think we're going to manage this?" he murmurs, voice sounding terribly small. "We'll make it to the port town, right? They won't find us?"
Ryeowook's heart sinks at Henry's question, because he doesn't know the answer. But he can't let Henry know that. So as confidently as he can manage, he smiles. "We'll be okay, Henry. They're looking for only two people together. With Sungmin and Jongwoon with us, our chances are better."
"Still... I feel like we're using them," Henry confesses. "They've helped us so much and asked only for us to help them make it. They don't know anything but what we've taught them, Ryeowook. It doesn't feel right, keeping them in the dark."
Ryeowook is quiet for a long time, withering under Henry's gaze. "I... we'll tell them, Henry. Not right now, but we'll tell them," he finally whispers. "Let's just get the to port first, okay? We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
"...Okay," Henry agrees, not sounding entirely convinced. Ryeowook ruffles his hair lightly, getting a small smile from the younger boy.
"I know I've not been the greatest friend for you lately, Henry, but I'll take care of you better from now on. You can believe that." Henry nods mutely, making to go back to his own cot, but Ryeowook catches him by the wrist and pulls him back down. "We haven't done this since we were kids," Ryeowook explains at Henry's inquiring look. "And I miss my human teddy bear." Henry grins and lays back down, letting Ryeowook pull the blanket over them.
They set off early in the morning, stopping only to briefly ask the inn keeper for directions, Henry doing the talking in lieu of Jongwoon’s fear of her leers at him, worrying for his own safety and health in the face of a woman’s lust.
As luck has it, they aren’t too far off the mark and are a mere day and a half’s travel from the port, Henry taking in the directions with the look of utmost seriousness on his face, relaying them to Ryeowook and watching as the man pulls out a newly purchased compass, guiding them out of town and back to the well worn traveller’s road, Jongwoon and Sungmin settling behind.
Travel passes quickly, filled with chatter and teasing as they make their way down the near eerily calm roads, stopping only for sleep and meals, Ryeowook and Henry merely shrugging when Jongwoon questions why they must keep such a pace, and while it doesn’t really sit well with him, he lets it slide.
“All men have secrets,” He says softly one night while all but he and Ryeowook are asleep, settled on a grassy hill and thankful this supposed ‘winter’ in which the temperature drops dramatically, according to Ryeowook anyway, hasn’t come around yet, settling himself of the grass with his hands serving as pillows behind his head. “I trust you would tell us if they begin to have direct effect on what we’re trying to accomplish. We’ll just wait.”
Ryeowook feels a pang of guilt and bits his lip at Jongwoon’s words, but wagers that there’s nothing he can do and there’s no reason for them to know yet, so he simply nods hesitantly at the other man, mumbling a quick I’m sorry before turning on his back, letting his eyes drift shut.
He misses Jongwoon’s soft sigh, and even softer reply of There’s no need.
The next morning brings a dark, heavy sky, foreshadowing rain. Ryeowook is suddenly very glad he insisted they all buy traveling cloaks, despite the warm weather; at least this way they wouldn't be completely drenched in the storm. It's only when the first drops come falling down, however, that he remembers Sungmin and Jongwoon have never seen rain before. And he only remembers because Sungmin starts panicking.
"What is this?" the fisherman gasps in horror. "Why are the heavens crying?"
Henry snorts and Ryeowook tries and fails to stifle a laugh, and before either of them can open their mouths to explain the sky opens up and a torrential downpour starts hailing down on them. Jongwoon lets out a noise too similar to a shriek for comfort and darts under the nearest tree, Sungmin stumbling close behind him.
"Luzo is finally punishing us for defecting," Jongwoon breathes, wide-eyed and white as a sheet as he peers up at the sky. "Oh heavenly father, forgive us for our sins. Spare us from your holy wrath."
"I don't know that any amount of prayer is going to help us this time, Jongwoon," Sungmin stammers, his fingers clasped together anyway.
"Guys," Ryeowook chuckles as Henry is doubled over, literally crying in laughter (though it's hard to tell because the rain is streaming down his face in rivulets, plastering his bangs to his forehead). "It's just rain."
He gets equally terrified wide eyed looks and has to refrain from laughing too hard, trying to be understanding of their lack of knowledge and Henry ruining his calm façade completely, hands clutching his stomach and nearly cackling.
“And this is...common?” Jongwoon asks skeptically, hands still clutched together in prayer and muttering under his breath, looking at the pitch colored clouds in the sky with something akin to horror, Sungmin doing the same beside him.
“Quite,” Ryeowook says, hoping that this religious episode ends quickly and they can get back to traveling soon, knowing the port town to be close and not wanting to have more time in the rain than absolutely necessary, not wanting any of them to catch sick. “It all depends on where you live really, I’d imagine it’s so heavy right now because we’re so close to the ocean.”
“So, we aren’t going to die then?” Sungmin asks slowly, flinching as the droplets rebound off his face, looking at them with a sort of fascination as they fall, Henry pulling the hood over his head when it becomes apparent that Sungmin isn’t going to do it or move out of the torrent any time soon.
Ryeowook chuckles and shakes his head, dragging Jongwoon back onto the path as well and attempting to hurry them towards the town, seeing the edge of the gates over the horizon on the road. They’ve barely travelled twenty feet though when Henry stops dead, bringing the lot of them to a halt.
“Henry?” Ryeowook says curiously, looking over the younger man’s shoulder to see the horizon, town within sight. “Why have you stopped?”
“They’ve set up a barrier,” Henry whispers back, and Ryeowook curses under his breath. He should have anticipated something like this, but he didn’t think that they’d catch on that fast, figuring he’d have a few more days leeway. “We’re going to either get in some other way, or find some way of hiding Ryeowook while still going in legally.”
"Legally?" Jongwoon echoes incredulously. "Have you done something that would make them suspect you of illegal activity?"
"No," Ryeowook replies honestly. "It's not that they don't want to let me in; they just want to keep me out. Damn it, we wasted too much time..." He and Henry push the other two back just enough so that the gate is beyond their sight; Ryeowook doesn't want them getting caught while they're coming up with a plan.
Sungmin furrows his eyebrows in confusion. "That's the same thing," he says slowly, working the words around in his head just to make sure he hasn't misunderstood. Henry shakes his head.
"Not exactly. They probably have orders to send us back to the Capitol. Which isn't happening," he adds resolutely, seeing the brief look of apprehension cross Ryeowook's face. "So, what's it gonna be? I personally am about as subtle as a brick to the head, so sneaking in somewhere else isn't an option. We'll have to get through the guards somehow."
"How? Even if I cover my face they're going to ask me to take the hood off before they let us through," Ryeowook sighs, running a hand through his hair , which has grown rather long and unruly in the past weeks, in frustration. Sungmin regards him for a moment, and his eyes light up as an idea strikes him.
"That's it!" he exclaims softly, effectively getting their attention. "Hear me out on this one guys," he starts, and not only Ryeowook, but Jongwoon too, gets a sinking feeling at the gleam in Sungmin's eye. He explains his plan, Ryeowook looking increasingly horrified and Jongwoon increasingly annoyed with his friend. Henry, however, listens, rapt.
"That has to work," he agrees once Sungmin finishes. Ryeowook gapes like a fish out of water between Henry and Sungmin.
"No, no, no," he stutters. "Absolutely not, there's no way you're getting me to--"
"Do you have another plan?" Henry interrupts sharply. Ryeowook pauses mid-argument, letting his mouth hang open for a moment before closing it, scowling at Henry. Sungmin gives a pleading look to Jongwoon, eyes begging him to go along with it.
"Come on, Jongwoon, please? If this works, this is the plan with least resistance," he pesters.
"Just for the record," Jongwoon states curtly, "I do not like this. One bit."
Chapter 4 B preview
“Halt!” The first guard booms, coming up to them and looking suspiciously, perusing over each of their faces and pausing on Ryeowook’s, shrouded by his hood. “What is your business here?”
Henry looks frantic, and widens his eyes with worry and anxiety as he speaks to the guard, a tone of urgency entering his voice.
“Please let us go in, Sir,” He pleads, gesturing to Ryeowook and making himself look as pathetic as possible, rain already done half the battle, hair plastered to his face and clothes soaked to the bone.
OST'S: Chapter 4A
Wonderful Mother Earth-Serenade of the Morning Star- Tales Of Vesperia
The Inn and the Bath house-Theme For The Landlady- Fruit’s Basket
Keeping Secrets-Organization XIII Theme- Kingdom Hearts II
I Have A Plan- We’re Gonna Make It- Little Miss Sunshine
Wonderful Mother Earth: Rainbows - Kajiura Yuki
The Inn and the Bath House: Little Dog Waltz - Chopin
Keeping Secrets: Sonata Prologue - Blade Dancer: Lineage of Light
I Have a Plan: The Sorcerer's Apprentice - Fantasia
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