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A Cat Who Writes ([personal profile] acatwhowrites) wrote2017-03-24 05:04 pm

a lantern in the darkness

title: a lantern in the darkness
players: Kim Joonmyun/Suho, Do Kyungsoo/D.O. (Kyungsoon)
rating: G
word count: 3,580w
summary: Kyungsoon's resigned to stay in her tower, watching the annual lantern festival from her window, but she meets someone one winter who convinces her life can't be watched but has to be experienced.
a/n: Originally written for the reflection0112 event. (Prompt #44 Tangled!AU - Kyungsoo just wants to see the lanterns, but she's stuck alone on top of her tower... Until Junmyeon, clumsiest thief in the world, accidentally stumbles inside. +++ Sassy!ksoo, jongin or baek as her pet frog, fluff!!!)

The title is from a poem by Dejan Stojanovic. I couldn't figure out how to follow the prompt more literally, but Joonmyun is still the clumsiest thief in the world. Unfortunately, I do not have the greatest understanding or knowledge of Korean fashion through the years until the 20th century, otherwise I would've been a bit more descriptive about their outfits. They're ultimately "not important," but they could've really set the time period. Finally, fun fact: Baekhyun is a Suwon tree frog.
Read on: AFF || AO3 || LJ





Every year, for as long as Kyungsoon can remember, the sky lights up after sunset with hundreds of softly glowing lanterns. As a child, she thought they were fireflies that got stuck in the sky, making up the stars, but she started charting them and realised that they never stayed put. The nights after the lanterns, the sky followed a set course and rotated around certain clusters of stars.

More mysteriously, the lanterns always fly on her birthday.

Each fall, she eagerly watches the leaves turning colours and falling, the animals bundling up to hibernate, and the air clouding passed her lips as she breathes. Winter settles in, and December crawls into January, the coldest time of the year, but Kyungsoon is warm within her tower and huddles near the fireplace as she reads or sews.

It's nearly instinct that she knows the exact time to wrap scarves around her neck and tuck her hands into mittens, and shuffle to the one large, east-facing window. She drags a padded stool over and puts a cushion down for her best friend, a small, light green frog. He shivers, even wearing the sweater and hood she made for him, but warms up when she leans over him, elbows on either side with her head in her hands.

The cold is barely noticeable, and she only has eyes for the far-off sky.

As the sun sets, pulling the layers of colours from the sky to unveil the night, she sighs. It's her eighteenth birthday; she's a young woman locked in a tower in the middle of nowhere with an amorous amphibian as her only companion.

"Someday, Baekhyun," she says, "we are leaving this tower and seeing those lanterns. Up close and in person. They only happen once a year, right?" The frog nods, having heard this spiel before. "And it just so happens to be on my birthday. Isn't it... I dunno, don't you think it's odd?" She throws a hand out, gesturing to the forest and sea barely visible beyond. "There's so much to see, so maybe...maybe the lanterns are like a guide, showing me the way..."

The way to what?

Baekhyun chirps. There's a dull glow, and Kyungsoon holds her breath.

A lone lantern takes flight, dancing on the light winter breeze. Dozens more follow, waltzing around each other and racing to the clouds.

"They are so beautiful," Kyungsoon breathes.

The duo sits at the window until the lights are no longer visible. Even then, Kyungsoon watches the sky. Baekhyun falls asleep, and she lifts him gently in her hand. The window shutters close snugly, but she stacks bolts of cloth in front of it for double insulation. She doesn't want to repeat the winters when Baekhyun's skin became so dry he could barely move.

She sets the frogs in his shallow bed of water and pulls off her winter things and clothes. The nightgown is one of many she's made, plan white but warm. After one final rake and poke at the red coals in the fireplace, she unrolls her futon, wraps her blankets around herself once again, and lies down.

Sleep, like usual, is elusive. It'll be a whole year until she sees the lanterns again, but as the sun peeks through the cracks in the window shutters, she dreams that she's there in person, watching them join the stars in the sky.



Winter is a terrible time for anyone without a permanent residence. Suho is jealous of the squirrels in the trees and rabbits in their dens. He shivers and pulls his coat tighter around him, stepping high to break through the crust of snow.

His fortune would be different if he'd just managed to hold in that one sneeze. Stealth is a part of is trade, and so is dust, but he really hoped that by now he'd be used to both and know how to ignore the tickles in his nose or at least how to hide the reaction in his elbow.

But no.

The crown was in his hands when the dust from its velvet pillow floated to his nostrils. Fine. He sniffled, which just made it worse, and actually reared back on one leg and stomped in tandem with the fiercest ah-CHOO! in the history of ah-choos. The echo carried throughout the trophy room and resonated through the floorboards.

Within seconds, guards surrounded him with swords drawn and deep frowns.

He put the crown back—stupid—and rushed the guards. Of course, they didn't flinch, and it's only thanks to his accomplices that he wasn't skewered by any swords. They dragged up the rope he'd rappelled down with him barely clinging to the end.

Understandably, they parted ways immediately. While stealth may not be his strongpoint, fleeing is. He's had a lot of practice running away.

Heading west, the royal city boundary is swallowed up by trees. Trees mean cover. Winter means snow, though, and snow means tracks. In hindsight, it wasn't that great of a plan.

He gave the crown back, though, so couldn't the guards just cut him some slack? Heaven forbid.

A deer breaks through the needled shrubbery, large ears forward and alert. She's alone and stares at Suho for a solid minute but ultimately decides he's neither interesting nor threatening. She turns her head and grabs at the bark of a nearby tree with her teeth. It can't be that tasty, but deer need fiber, too.

Suho gives her a wide berth and continues his trek to nowhere. It's hard to not let his mind wander and bitterly imagine how different now would be if he'd just gotten that crown. It's a national treasure, sure, but he could've sold it outside the nation or underground and made a fortune that would've set him up for a life of comfortable retirement.

Groaning hurts, but he can't help it. His breath fogs his vision, and his throat is dry from the crisp air. To add insult to injury, a snowflake hits his eye. Clusters of snow fall from the sky, slithering through the sieve of the bare canopy.

Eventually, he notices the trees thinning and really hopes he hasn't just made a giant loop, but he doesn't see any other footprints aside from tiny splayed bird toes and the drag of hopping rabbit feet.

Cautiously, he peeks through a pair of bare oak trees. He rubs his eyes with his gloved hands, but there is, in fact, a giant stone tower in a clearing. The forest breaks and closes around it like a river around a small island.

It's perfect, he decides, circling around it thoughtfully. He can hide in the tower for a bit, let the snow hide his tracks, and the guards will give up completely. There's no tracking him if there's no trace of him.

He's just about to race to the tower when a window—a door?— opens at the top. A girl leans out and smiles at the sky, tilting her head back to try and catch flakes on her tongue. She's pretty, even wrapped in thick blankets. Her long, ink black hair is pulled back in a thick braid.

A chill quakes down his body. He can just ask to warm up inside; that's reasonable. It's freezing outside.

He walks out of the trees and stands below the window. "Hello," Suho greets cheerfully.

Shock is an understatement. Her eyes grow so wide that Suho wonders if he looks like a living snowman. Blinking rapidly, she regains composure and reaches out to grab the shutters, fully intending to ignore him.

"Wait! Just... hear me out? Please."

She's frowning, but her arms pull back into her warm layers.

"Are you a princess?" Maybe he can flirt his way into her good graces.

"Would a princess live in a tower in the middle of nowhere?" Maybe not.

Suho shrugs. It's not completely out of the realm of possibility.

The girl scoffs. "You've read too many fairy tales."

"It's a harmless hobby. I suppose there's no dragon around, either, then."

"He left ages ago, but I never know when he'll be back." A small smile turns up the corners of her lips. She's teasing him. "What about you? A merchant lost in the woods, tempted by some fairy? Out for revenge on a wolf? Looking for your fortune?"

"I wouldn't say no to a fortune, but I'm honestly just taking the air. Stretching my legs." He has no idea where he is, and the dry air burns his nose. That's what he gets, he supposes, for running aimlessly away from the guards. "You know, it's poor manners to not invite someone in for tea or something."

The girl snorts. "I told you I'm no princess. Where would I have learned manners like that?"

"Well, I'm no princess, either, but I managed."

"Lucky you. I've been here by myself since forever, and I've had no one to impress or entertain, so deal with my rudeness. Goodbye." She turns.

"Wait! I just... Would you allow me to come up? If it's been so long, I know I'd be lonely. I could keep you company for a while."

"And then leave again. I'd rather not. I have all the company I could want, already."

"Me, myself, and I, huh? I can respect that. If I can be frank, though—"

"Suit yourself."

"Ha ha. Anyway, it's kind of freezing down here. Would you please let me up, so I don't become a corpsicle on your front lawn?"

The girl tilts her her head, considering, then pushes herself upright with a nod. "Hang on."

He stomps his feet while he waits. Hearing catch!, he looks up and hops aside just before a thick, dark rope drops where he'd stood. "Is this...hair...?"

"You dead already or coming up?"

Grasping the soft rope, he hauls himself up until he can catch the sill of the window. It really is a window, although a stool acts as a makeshift step. "Thank you, really." The thanks falls to his feet when he notices the girl gripping the other end of the rope he'd climbed up. It snakes under her arm and around her back.

It really is hair.

"You've never had a haircut, have you?"

"No. Now get down. I thought you wanted to be out of the cold; you're letting it in."

"Oh, sorry!" He nearly tips the stool over but catches himself. The girl brushes aside him and pulls up her braid, dropping it to the floor and pulling the shutters closed.

"Is that a frog?"

"His name's Baekhyun. Yes, he is a frog, although he's been trying to convince me he's actually a prince since we first met." She pets its head with a fingertip. "He was actually almost dinner, once, but I cried, so Grandma let me keep him."

"You live with your grandmother?"

"Only in spring, summer, and fall. It's too cold for her in winter, now. She's like a bird; she migrates when the wind changes. Hot tea?"

"Please. Thank you." It's a strange room, completely open with numerous paper partitions and a fireplace right in the center.

"Why are you even here? No one comes this far into the woods unless they're lost."

"Before we get to that, how about we introduce ourselves, first? I know Baekhyun the frog. My name is Suho. And you are...?"

She frowns, holding a simple green tea cup in her hands. The steam rises in patternless coils and whorls. "Kyungsoon."

"Kyungsoon. It's a pleasure to meet you." She hums and sets a small, shallow dish of tea before the amphibian. It steps into it, flinches, and shakes its burned foot. The girl shakes her head and takes he dish again, blowing gently across it until the steam vanishes. Suho watches with amazed bemusement. "Have you always lived here?"

"Yes. My grandma says I was left in the woods as a baby, and she adopted me." She shrugs and gestures to the tower room. "I've been here ever since. She brings me food and books and taught me how to sew and sing... I guess I've been happy here."

"But—" It's not his place, but he just cannot imagine such a secluded life. He's not had the most stable interpersonal relationships—the cat-and-mouse with royal guards is probably his more reliable and steady relationship to date—but he still acknowledges his loneliness. Maybe it's a realisation that only comes with knowing other people and having experienced their kindness and friendship. "Aren't you lonely?"

"No. Why?" Baekhyun the frog chirps as she runs a fingertip over his head. "I have Baekhyun, and Grandma will be coming in spring."

"Yes, but... Isn't there anything you want to actually do? Outside of your tower?" He sips his tea and flinches. It's too hot, and he unfortunately uses the hand holding the cup to cover his mouth, releasing too many fingers and pouring the scalding tea over his lap.

Somehow, he's certain the frog is laughing at him.

Kyungsoon wordlessly gets up and retrieves a couple of towels, plucking the fallen mug from the floor. She hands the larger towel to Suho and cleans the splashes of tea from the floor. "There is something I've honestly always wanted to do, ever since I was a little girl," she admits softly, sitting back on her ankles.

"What's stopping you?"

She sighs and gets to her feet, pouring another cup of tea but setting it aside to cool before offering it to him. "Outside the forest, there are hundreds of lanterns released into the sky every year."

Suho nods, blotting his lap gingerly. "The lantern festival for the princess. I know it."

"You do?" She eagerly leans forward in her seat, round eyes large with wonder. "Have you seen them? In person?"

"Once or twice, maybe, sure." The lantern festival is one of the few days literally everyone is out of their homes in the kingdom, an opportune time for those with light fingers and lockpicking skills.

"So you know the way there, then?" She hands him the new mug of tea. It's not nearly as hot after sitting for a little while, and he sips it gratefully.

"I've been known to find my way." He's not completely dry, but the burn is gone, at least. He pauses when two small, pale hands wrap around his.

Kyungsoon's eyes seem to shine, but it's not a reflection of the firelight. "Take me," she says.

The tea goes down the wrong tube and stings his throat. "I beg your pardon?!" he coughs.

"Take me to see the lanterns!"

"I appreciate your hospitality immensely, and the festival really would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a girl who lives in a secluded tower, but I am unfortunately heading in the other direction."

The glimmer leaves her eyes, and her lips dip into a frown. It's actually the most dangerous expression Suho has ever seen on a woman, and t chills him more than the winter outside.

"If you don't take me, you won't get the antidote to the poison you just drank."

"Poison?!"

Kyungsoon stands and glides to where Baekhyun the frog has rolled onto his back in his tea bath. "Baekhyun is poisonous. I'm immune, because I've been exposed for so long. Grandma said it kills slowly, and the antidote is very difficult to come by." She pets the amphibian's soft belly. "Are you sure you're going the other way?"

Suho swallows thickly but manages to smile. "I hear the royal gimjang kimchi is delicious, this time of year."

"Great! We'll leave now."

"Now? But it's—" Snowing and freezing cold, and the sooner they leave, the sooner he'll be walking back into the royal guards' deadly embrace. If he's slowly dying anyway, though, maybe the swift death would be a better option. What he is unaware of is the fact that there is no poison; Baekhyun is not a poisonous frog. Kyungsoon is just very used to getting her way.

"Every day wasted is a day closer to the lantern festival, and I want to be sure to be there to see it all, so we'll get there early or just take our time. I've never been outside before." Now that she has her way, she's talking much faster. Her hair trails behind her as the criss-crosses the room, picking up this and that and packing it all into a worn canvas bag with shoulder straps.

She pushes the stool back under the window-door with her foot and sets aside the bolts of cloth. The winter wind slithers through the shutters, drawing out goosebumps with icy fingers. Her braid hooks over the protruding beam, and she winds it around her arm to hold it more securely.

"Come on!"

Suho is already feeling sick. Baekhyun croaks encouragement or threats. Kyungsoon wiggles her arms a little. "Come on! You climbed up before; going down should be much easier. Unless," she adds with a minute tilt of her head, "you'd rather jump. It's not high enough to kill you, so you'd probably just break your legs, and then I'd have to drag you to the festival by your ankles." He has a feeling she'd actually do it. "I just thought you'd like to keep some dignity."

"You really are too kind, Kyungsoon." His legs shake as he stands, but the sweet smile Kyungsoon shoots him just as he balances on the sill shakes his heart even more. "You are one scary woman."

"Pardon?"

"Nothing. I'll see you at the bottom. Please..." He leans over to look at his course. It certainly looks high enough to kill him. "Please don't drop me."

Kyungsoon hangs forward on her hair, swinging a little. "Don't take too long, then."

Rather than go hand-over-hand, Suho rappels down the tower and drops the last couple of feet. The snow is thick enough to cushion his fall, and he stands back enough for her to see him.

She looks around her tower again. It was always spacious but cosy to her, but now it feels so small and closed off.

Baekhyun leaps to her arm when she walks past to rake the coals in the fireplace and take out the unburned wood. She tucks her friend into a pocket sewn into her jacket and pushes her bag out the window. It drops with a fwump, and maybe jumping wouldn't actually be too bad, but she's not about to take any chances.

Suho's waiting with his hands on his hips and snowflakes melting in his hair. "Are you coming, princess?"

Kyungsoon closes her hand over Baekhyun. He can feel her heartbeat and nuzzles her fingers. You can do it!

Taking a deep breath, she looks at the overcast sky and grabs her rope-like hair with both hands, tucks her feet around it, and she's fully outside her tower for the first time ever. Opening her hands a little, she slips down, and her heart jumps into her throat. She's excited. She loosens her fists again and slides down the thick rope of her hair, whooping with laughter until near the bottom of the tower. Abruptly, she closes her hands and pulls up her legs, staring at the sea of white with wide eyes.

"Kyungsoon?" Suho is a couple paces ahead but turns back, eyebrows drawn up in concern. "Are you alright?" He looks at his feet and blinks stupidly. If she's never left her tower, she doesn't even know grass. At least the snow falls past her windows; she can reach out and catch the flakes on her palm.

She slowly relaxes, although her eyes remain wide and anxious. If Suho didn't think she poisoned him, he'd find the look rather endearing.

He holds out his arms. "It's okay. It's just snow. You'll like it, I promise." He honestly expects her to scoff at his offer, but she puts a hand on his shoulder, then the other, and he carefully takes her waist. She's slender, but soft and not as light as he expects. She tucks her elbows to her sides, almost slamming her chest into Suho's face, but he courteously turns his head aside and loops an arm behind her thighs. "I don't think I can carry you the entire way."

She bites her lip, blushing a little as she admits, "I've never touched the ground before. What if it hurts?"

"It doesn't, and it won't. I promise." He bends forward slightly, and she instinctively holds onto him tighter, but he offers his most charming smile. Cautiously, she releases her hold and extends a leg until the snow just barely touches the toes of her boots. A giggle bubbles over her lips, and stretches both of her legs, releasing Suho's shoulders but keeping a hand on his arm. He's not sure she even realises.

Her feet pass through the ground, but she's standing, and cool air passes up over her legs. Baekhyun shudders in her pocket and tucks his legs closer to himself. He'd much rather stay home in their warm tower.

"Congratulations, princess," Suho says. "You've taken your first step into a larger world."

"Like I said before..." She beams at him, releasing his arm and bending forward. His delicate sense of inner danger tells him to run, but he can't outrun the snowball pitched at his back and topples into a snow drift that hides a gnarled mess of heavy roots. "Don't call me princess!"