“Happiness is a choice,” Jaehwan reminds himself as he clenches his hand in a fist, hoping for the peacefulness to wash over him once again.
He’d promised - promised Hakyeon, promised Taekwoon, that he wouldn’t willingly succumb. To the powerful words that once held them all, all but Hakyeon. He promised not to succumb - but the words comfort him, even now that he is out of that spell. Jaehwan knows better now than to let them retake him. He knows to use them for himself, remind himself that he is master of his own mind.
“Happiness is a choice,” he says quietly, rolling a crumbled piece of paper between his thumb and index finger. It helps, to have this sort of ritual.
Everyone went out somewhere, on a mission, surely to look for more clues of the ones who have captivated their world. They left him behind, as usual, a liability because he isn’t entirely healthy, can be forced under the spell again if someone tries.
That’s okay. He understands. He isn’t interested in the field anyway. But now it’s empty, and he’s alone in his room. It’s empty - save for the new boy, he presumes, Wonsik’s friend who they saved. He hasn’t met him yet, at least not officially. Hasn’t bothered to leave his room, his comfortable leaning chair, where he is seated simply staring at the wall and reminding himself that happiness is a choice, so that he won’t despair from loneliness and concern for his friends. So that he may be happy, or at the very least calm.
“Happiness… is a choice.” He keeps rolling the piece of paper, slowly. “Peace… is a choice.”
“Why do you keep saying those things?”
Jaehwan almost falls out of his chair in surprise - he was sure he was alone. But he looks to the doorway, and there is a boy standing there, watching him with big eyes, as if surprised that he was caught. He recognizes him; it’s Wonsik’s friend. The only time he has seen him was during the process of saving him, cleansing him. Jaehwan remembers how the boy struggled to accept what was truth and what was a lie, begging Wonsik to help him. He was scared then; he still looks scared, lips parted, standing stock still as though it would make him invisible.
“How long have you been standing there?” Jaehwan asks.
“Not long,” the boy says, finding his words. “Why do you say those things? They’re… dangerous. That’s what the others were saying.”
The boy inhales sharply, takes a small step back. “I just say the mantras to calm me. Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you,” Jaehwan assures. He doesn’t want the boy to leave out of fear, not now that they’re talking. He just wants someone to talk to. “Hakyeon can confirm. When he comes back.”
“O-okay,” the boy says, chewing on his lip. He moves a little further through the doorway, further into the room. “Who… are you? I haven’t seen you around.”
I’ve seen you, Jaehwan thinks, but the boy might feel awkward knowing another person saw his vulnerable state during the cleansing. “I usually wander around or just stay here in my room,” he says. “I’m Jaehwan. And you’re the new boy. Wonsik’s friend. Come in. What’s your name?”
“Sanghyuk,” he says sheepishly. He shuffles into Jaehwan’s room; Jaehwan points to his bed, and Sanghyuk takes a seat there.
“How are you… adjusting?” asks Jaehwan.
“It’s all very strange,” says Sanghyuk after a few moments. “All I knew for so long was a lie. And I don’t know who I am anymore.”
“I think most people go through this after cleansing,” says Jaehwan thoughtfully. “I know I was kicking and screaming. I tried to fall back under the spell several times. It took a while before I accepted the reality, because I loved the lie.”
“Is that why you still use the mantras?”
Jaehwan nods. “The meaning of the words themselves aren’t harmful. It’s how you use them that matters. They help me cope when I get anxious. And I promised not to let them brainwash me again.”
“Ah,” says Sanghyuk. “I didn’t know that was possible.”
“Well, you’re new to this.” Jaehwan gives a small smile, hoping to placate him. “You’ll probably learn more as you go. If you want to stay.”
Sanghyuk nods and looks around, not quite fixing his gaze on anything. As though he’s looking for something, some kind of sign.
“Sanghyuk,” Jaehwan says seriously. The boy looks at him, eyes wide again. “You’re safe here. No one will hurt you, or bother you if you don’t want them to. But you also don’t have to stay if you don’t feel comfortable. Okay? No one will force you to be here, and especially not to take part in the rebellion.”
Sanghyuk looks to the blank wall, windowless. “And out there? Is it safe?”
“It may be, if you can hold your own and no one can tell you’re different. You may not know if anyone you meet is like you, however.”
“So… I’d be alone.”
A sigh. Sanghyuk stares at his fingers as he curls them. “Can I just… sit here? With you. For a little?” he asks quietly.
Jaehwan smiles. “Of course. Any time you want.”
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