((TeoRu, written while I'm on vacation at me mumrune's home. I don't own AN of these characters, please support the TAL webtoon on Naver~!))
Maru was asleep. That wasn't abnormal.
The workload had doubled on his plate, with classes getting ready for exams and Jin now being pursued by even stranger Chachaoongs than before. MuYeong had informed him of those guys, the 'Lost TAL'; TAL whose Masks were smoke and shadows, unknown even by the TALs themselves. One who could control another person's limbs, and Maru had never seen his HyeongNim so worked up before.
Ignatio and Choraengi had both taken the chance to warn Maru to be on his guard. The Lost TALs had specifically stated they had no intentions of harming anyone, but even Maru knew that was a load of crock coming from Chachaoongs.
But he already had exhausted himself trying to find the loose ends that kept leaking info on Jin, adding in having to study for his GED on top of scurrying around for info. And he was only one person; so Maru couldn't help but find himself dozing off atop his homework after tiredly eating dinner and taking a shower.
'Such a weary young one, isn't he?'
He was therefore excused, right? Hearing voices wasn't anything worrying or psychological; his hearing was concentrated, so he overheard his fellow apartment-goers. So when he heard a voice speaking, he figured it was one of them, and rolled over in his dozing state.
'No, I can do this by myself, of course.'
And given his dreams were always shaped by the noises he heard while dreaming, he figured his slumbering mind was making up the noise of his patio door being pulled open. The soft breeze of winter snuck into the room, cooling it from the heat the kitchen had created when Maru had made a good-sized portion of curry.
'So young...Yet even you are used by that Second King candidate.'
A hand gently petted his head, Maru sighing in his sleep. He liked Ignatio's spontaneous hugs, Choi's occasional headpat, even Jin's odd arm-clinging here and there when he visited. Maru was a creature who craved touch, and so any affection was good in his opinion.
'How cute. I wonder, will your loyalty shift as easily as your body does?'
The hand was now softly petting him, Maru turning over towards the owner. The fingers were warm, and fluffed his locks in a playful manner. "Hnn~"
Another hand joined the first, gliding over Maru's shoulder to his back in a soothing massage.
'I should hope your mind is as pliable as your body seems to be.'
The hands turned him onto his stomach, and got to work kneading his back, Maru melting in the process and moaning quietly. A weight settled over him, the hands pressing into his sore joints and muscles as tough as rope. He squirmed a bit as the massage went on, his body going lax under the attention he was convinced was a dream.
The voice crooned in his ear. 'Just let me tend to you, young one. The King makes you out to be a dog who runs at his call. You're not a dog, though, are you?' His cheek was stroked and a thumb brushed his ear, making Maru moan.
His body was starting to respond to the touches, and his squirming became more frantic.
'Oho~ Do you like that?' The touches started to focus on his neck and ears, Maru feeling the weight settle on his back and press him down onto the sofa. He was now beginning to realize, in his unconscious mind, that the touches were being...a little invasive. However there was a soft numbness that was taking over his senses even as he stirred.
"Shhh~" The voice was quiet, deep, soothing to hear, and when Maru's eye fluttered open and he glanced over his shoulder to see a strange black-and-white haired Chachaoong, he felt no fear.
One eyes was white and the other a deep black, darker than Choi's eyes. They narrowed as the stranger's face moved forward, and Maru had no sense in him to question it as their lips met. A first kiss was something precious, no human laws were needed to think of it in that way; but the touches had been so warm, nonthreatening, affectionate, and his mind was so warm and blank.
The stranger let go and turned Maru on his back. "So malleable. Has no one treated you gently before? You're so starved for touch you're already aroused."
"HNN!" Maru flinched as his shirt was opened, the stranger's fingers exploring his skin. Maru felt his legs falling open, his groin throbbing uncomfortably now. "Nghhh...W-Who..." He barely managed to utter as his breasts were seized and the stranger's palms pressed the muscles flat. The static that jolted through his body at the touch was enough to make him cry out with a weak voice.
The stranger smiled. "Teora Hao. Call me Teo, if you'd like. And your name?"
"M-Maru." He uttered back, whimpering as Teora Hao massaged his chest and squeezed the mounds tightly. His hypnotic eyes were watching as Maru's face flushed and his eyes fluttered shut for a moment, the blond's legs shifting frantically.
Teora Hao's smile was so soft and gentle, and he kissed Maru again, muffling a yelp as Maru felt a hand suddenly groping at his crotch. The pressure was exciting, someone so boldly touching him between the legs, and Maru's hands found Teora Hao's shoulders to cling to. He gasped as Teora Hao's hand stroked him and squeezed one of his breasts in rhythm, watching Maru's expression with a perverse glee.
Maru gasped, shooting upright as his cellphone buzzed with a call. His heart was pounding, and as he looked about, he confirmed he was definitely alone. Alone...with a rather unbearable erection, to his mortification. "H-Hello?" Maru squeaked as he picked up his phone, a pillow in his lap as he heard MuYeong's voice come in.
An odd taste lingered in his mouth, and Maru squirmed as he tried to, and faintly, recalled a deep voice.
The taste was sour.
"And you didn't think to TELL me abut this?!"
Maru flinched, but he was beyond tired and his walls and filters were low. "Tell you that I'm having weird dreams that, hey, are about the LEADER OF THE LOST TAL?! THE ENEMY?! Gee HyeongNim, I wonder WHY I didn't say something sooner!" He snapped, MuYeong going slackjawed for a moment. "...I-I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to-"
"No, no..No, I'm sorry." MuYeong rubbed his face. "You weren't there the first time, of course you wouldn't have known..."
Ignatio was leaning against a wall nearby, SaeHa treating Maru's leg after the most recent ambush took Maru's limb down with a troubling cut while he was clearing a path for Jin.
"I thought it was weird, the dreams being so clear but...There's been so much stress and strangeness in the waking world, I thought..."
Maru had stopped shaking as SaeHa finished bandaging his leg, though he was fairly pale now. "Even though ya probably don't want to, I suggest ya rest for now. Though that wound won't take more than a day to heal, it's best not to put things to chance." The SunBi told him.
"I-" The younger Chachaong looked to MuYeong.
To his surprise, his carer nodded. "I think it'd be best if you stayed here at Jin's so the pervert and Granny can keep you safe if those guys try something again. It'll be safer to sleep here." MuYeong looked at Jin, whom was lurking at the door. "Is that okay? I'll take some people out if that's too many."
"N-No!" Jin scurried in. "Maru-Hyeong got hurt protecting me! Keeping him here until he's better would be the least I could do!"
Even though the gooey golden eyes Jin gave him should've assured him, Maru squirmed uncomfortably. 'Yet even you are used by that Second King candidate. The King makes you out to be a dog who runs at his call.' He looked away, wincing as he adjusted his now bum leg.
"Ah-! Here! Maru-Hyeong, let me get you a pillow!" Jin offered.
He was given a headshake, and was stunned as Maru materialized a very comfy-looking pillow that resembled MuYeong's, which he stuffed beneath his head as he laid down. Maru listened as MuYeong and Ignatio turned down Jin's offer of dinner but they offered in turn to get groceries.
A few moments of silence, before BaekJung interrogated Jin about asking for meat, the redhead doing something that sounded like a punch. A door nearby opened, and BeuNe's voice floated out to ask where MuYeong and Ignatio had gone, Jin responding they'd gone to shop, then HalMi complaining they wouldn't get the brands she preferred.
Joong's voice broke in with a chuckle, teasing HalMi about being high maintenance. HalMi made a cat-like noise, and once it seemed to go quiet, Maru's ears caught the sound of Yangban's flute suddenly but softly playing in the absence of sound.
It was hardly his fault that, with the TAL's melody combined with his fatigue from blood-loss, he slipped into slumber.
A soft caress to his cheek.
'You were harmed...'
The voice sounded concerned, and his cheek was swabbed again with a warm thumb. The hand it belonged to followed and cupped Maru's face, making him sigh in his sleep. Such a gentle touch, such a kind touch.
'Let me see...'
There was suddenly warmth surrounding Maru's injured leg, to the point he fidgeted. It seeped deep into his bones, and once it faded Maru turned onto his side without any pain flaring up. The voice chuckled softly and his hair was ruffled, Maru curling up towards the source-
"GOTCHA YOU BASTARD!"
Maru yelped as something hit the ground next to him, causing him to jump upright just like the first dream. BaekJung was standing next to him, sword drawn and a wild look in his eyes as he glanced around. "Maru-Hyeong!" Jin came dashing in and plopped down to wrap Maru in a bear-hug, crying. "We saw it! Him! Whatever! There was a strange shadow that was hovering over you!"
"It vanished when I tried to attack, though." The Butcher said as he dismissed his weapon.
Maru rubbed his cheek, something squirming in his gut as he recalled a different touch. "But that confirms it. The Lost ones are tracking you." HalMi raised, her eyes narrowed as she stared at the now sweating blond. "Though it didn't seem to be interested in tracking the kid, rather you."
"...I better leave." He uttered, scratching the back of his head.
Jin was shaken by this and clung to his arm. "Wha?! No! Maru-Hyeong, didn't you hear Hyeong?! It's safer to stay here where the TAL-"
"I'll put you in danger." Maru cut him off by standing abruptly. "That thing was here in your house...Because I was here." The morose but honest attempt to assure Jin with a smile didn't seem to work. "The TAL will have a better chance at keeping you safe if it's only you...I have to go."
SaeHa's gaze was on his leg, Maru well aware why.
"Don't tell HyeongNim, okay?" He patted the redhead's fluffy locks and tried to smile again. "He'll just get mad at me."
Jin's face fell, but as he tried to reach out and snag Maru's jacket, YiMae suddenly coiled around him and prevented him from moving. "Be on your way then, Maru-Nim. I'll wish for your safety." The masked TAL spoke, his hand over Jin's mouth.
"Take care, Jin." Maru managed a friendly nod despite YiMae's icy dismissal, and without another word, he left.
The cold seemed to surround him the moment he was out of range of HalMi's barrier. Winter was seeping into his clothes and skin, and Maru began to hurry towards his apartment. 'It won't be safe if I go to HyeongNim's place, since he said one of them seemed interested in him. And I can't turn around and go back to Jin's, he'll be in danger again.' Maru reasoned. 'If I can make it back to my place, I should have enough cover from the human tenants around me.'
The sky was overcast even more than that morning, and a fog was beginning to thicken in the air.
'Would it be safe to find a stall to get food?' Maru idly wondered. 'Come to think of it, I haven't eaten yet. It might make me sound like a pig, but I suddenly feel like my stomach's completely empty.'
His metabolism was fairly high, after all.
'Ugh, anything would do now. And the vendors would have people around them!' Maru caught the faint scent of hot tteokbokki, and his stomach rumbled. 'Hmm, smells good. This way? It's getting dense, this fog.'
He followed the scent, hoping that at any moment he'd see a lit sign above a stall declaring a bowl of tteokbokki for 500 won.
But to his shock, he suddenly stumbled and fell over a bench. "Ugh...I could've done without that happening..." Maru muttered as he righted himself, now sitting on the bench. "...Wait...Isn't this..."
He glanced around frantically, realizing that yes, he was in the park near Jin's house. That was in the opposite direction of the street vendors! Maru gawked at having been so totally turned around, and blinked as the fog ahead of him rapidly cleared away...
Leaving three silhouettes a few yards away.
"Come here, Maru."
He froze in place, one of the silhouettes beckoning to him. When he didn't move, that voice sighed softly and the silhouette approached him in a calm stroll. The man coming towards him had long and messy-looking hair, black on one side and white on the other. His eyes, which had alternating rings of black and white, had red lining them in a pretty way, and as he finally stopped in front of Maru, he saw a container with steam drifting off it held in the man's hands.
"...A-Are...Are you...Teora Hao?"
He nodded in reply, and sat next to Maru. "Yes. I'm glad to meet you in the waking world at last." Teora Hao offered the fork with a few pieces on the end, and Maru was cautious as he took the utensil and nibbled the spicy rice cakes one at a time. "You're hungry, so eat all of it." The TAL instructed.
"...I don't...really understand this." Maru vaguely waved his hand around him.
Teora Hao, instead of replying, lifted his hand to encourage Maru to start eating. Only when he was certain the other was going to stuff his face did the TAL speak. "I'm not surprised. I have been rather...cryptic, in my approach." Maru paused while chewing, and choked as he recalled the dreams. "Though your reactions have been nothing short of positive and receptive, you know. I can hardly be faulted for multiple visits." The TAL pulled out a handkerchief and cleaned Maru's mouth.
As he was too busy trying to focus on not choking and finish his food, Maru gave no reply but blushed quite brightly.
"I will admit, my first intentions had been to see if you had information on the Second." Teora Hao's voice was very calm, never changing in tone or volume, and when his fingers played with Maru's hair, he didn't protest the action. "But your mind fascinated me. So young and so untouched, yet the weight on your shoulders is heavier than a mountain."
Maru's chewing slowed a bit as Teora Hao's words came back to him in a hazy way.
"I felt a bit ashamed, peering into your dreams and perverting them with my touch. Though at this point I hardly feel it anymore." The TAL was staring at the other male. "Since I know you enjoy it too."
The sunny-eyed male finished the food and lowered the carton to his lap. "...And...so?"
"My interest in you isn't because of the King." And just like that, the carton tumbled from Maru's lap as Teora Hao put his hands on both sides of his hips, pinning Maru to the bench with their faces an inch away. "Rather, I'm interested because even after you learned my identity, you have yet to push my presence away. When I came to your dreaming body, you let me tend to it, when I fully expected you to react in fear."
Maru's heart-rate had shot through the roof, but he didn't move away. "You..You haven't hurt me, so...I mean..."
"Is attention such an unfamiliar territory you'd accept it from anyone?" Teora Hao asked, sliding closer. His thigh hit Maru's hip. "Tell me how to make you afraid then." His face was reflected in Maru's eyes, and Maru himself saw his own face in the black eye, his expression surprised but...
Not afraid. "If you had to ask me that, have you really even been in my head?" He asked in reply.
"...And that is why you fascinate me."
When the warm pressure on his lips made his mouth open, Maru was certain the TAL would only be tasting the tteokbokki he'd just eaten. All the same, TeoRa Hao bit at his lips until he had gotten the younger's teeth open, slipping his tongue between the pearly whites and seeking out Maru's own muscle to coax into play. As if by instinct, Maru's legs fell open as Teora Hao moved closer, pushing his hips between the younger's knees as their kiss turned slightly feral.
"Oi, Teo. They're getting close." A new voice said from the remaining silhouettes yet to move, and Teora Hao allowed Maru the chance to breathe as he leaned back, a strand of saliva connecting their tongues.
Maru's head was spinning, his entire body felt like it was on fire. Teora Hao gently closed his jaw and gave a soft little kiss to the corner of the younger's mouth, smirking at his dazed expression. "The next time we meet in your dreams, I hope you'll be this willing." The TAL whispered deviously in Maru's ear, licking it a second after and smirking as the younger shuddered.
Then, like ghosts, like the fog itself lifting, they had vanished.
"MARU-HYEONG!" Jin's voice cut through his daze like a knife, and Maru jumped as he realized he was panting and flushed from the encounter. Jin and YiMae were running to him, though YiMae only because he was being dragged. "I was so worried! Are you okay?! Granny said she detected the Lost TALs over here so I hurried right over!"
The Second King-to be jumped on him and hugged the blond, Maru patting his arms while trying to find words.
"...Maru-Nim?" YiMae prompted.
The blond startled. "Uh-" He glanced at Jin blankly. "...Jin? You're supposed to be at home?"
"How could I stay there when I was worried?!" The redhead argued, crying fiercely. "Why are you at the park though?"
YiMae picked up the carton and fork Maru had dropped. "Ah...I was heading home and felt hungry...I guess I got something to eat and came here to relax?" The blond tried to recall the events that led him to the bench, but...
"Hyeong let us take you home, okay?" Jin held tight to Maru's arm.
Maru nodded, feeling dizzy as Jin supported him to his apartment. Something certainly had to have happened, right? But...what?
The rest of the week passed quietly. The Lost ones were spotted a few times, but never had the chance to catch up to YiMae as he moved Jin to safety as quickly as fish scattering. The weird dreams faded from Maru's thoughts, as he had many other things to worry over, but there was always the oddest feeling he couldn't shake of never quite being alone.
While it was slightly foreboding, it had alongside that feeling a sense of relief.
Maru found that day starting with him waking up late to MuYeong pounding on the door, Shadow popping up and tripping the poor sunset-eyed male as he tried to yank on his boots. After cramming some cereal into a baggie to slip into his pocket, Maru followed his Hyeong out into the winter-washed world, Choi and Ignatio chatting animatedly out on the sidewalk.
It took a few minutes to get into position for taking Jin home from school, and Maru wasn't too surprised when he found himself left with Choi for his 'partner' today. They chatted for a bit, waiting for the signal that said Jin was on his way, but...it never came.
When they were suddenly surrounded by faceless, wraith-like beings, Maru felt that maybe today, he should've stayed in bed.
They swarmed the two, Choi trying to punch and kick those he could target as what felt like hands pushed at Maru's shoulders and back, turning him around and around until he suddenly lost his balance and fell onto his rear, rolling until his side hit something solid and he finally stopped. "Ugh..."
"Good to see you."
Maru blinked at the polite voice, looking up to see Teora Hao standing next to him with a hand held out to assist Maru. "Maru-Hyeong!" Jin's voice came from behind, Maru twisting himself around to see the redheaded teen standing nearby, looking upset and confused.
"Now then, Maru." The ChongGak helped the sunset-eye to his feet, those monochrome eyes staring deep into Maru's being. "I require your assistance. Considering the Second's stubborn nature, I felt it may help if there was a familiar face in the argument." Something about the wording struck a cord in Maru, and he nodded woodenly before turning to go to Jin.
The redhead leapt to him to close the gap, clinging to Maru like a child. "Maru-Hyeong, we need to get out of here! YiMae, he- They-"
"Jin, you need to accept your position." Maru's hands held Jin's shoulders, and he was giving the Second a stern but soft look. "It's for the good of everyone, after all. Please hurry up and accept your place as King." He could feel a sort of fog drifting from him, his senses sharpening and his alertness high.
Jin gaped at him in horror and backed up. "You- Maru-Hyeong, what are- Do you even hear what you're saying right now?! You know why I have rejected it!"
"You've been selfish, I know." Maru said softly, and when Jin flinched at that, the blond tried to make his expression kind. "But you can fix it, Jin! If you stop being selfish and do what's needed, nobody can be angry with you, after all. Please Jin, just be a good child for the sake of us all." He pleaded, going to take hold of Jin once more but failing as the redhead jumped back looking as if he'd been stung.
Teora Hao sighed from behind Maru's shoulder and moved close to him, a hand gently holding Maru's waist. "Seeing the state he's in, I doubt any of your words are reaching him. So..." Maru felt movement, and a sharp clack heralded a short sword in the ChongGak's grip.
The clack reverberated through the air like ripples in water, and Maru watched in shock as Jin's outline shattered. It revealed a much older-looking man in his place, long red hair turning black at the tips and reaching to the ground. His eyes were still golden like Jin's, but sharp, cold, hardened and closed off. As he scowled at Teora Hao, Maru's hand sought the TAL's out of fright and he felt Teora Hao grip his hand with an assuring firmness.
The other two appeared, and Maru was made to stand next to Teora Hao as they chased the strange-looking Jin around before cornering and capturing him. "It's for the best, you know that." The ChongGak assured Maru, kissing Maru's cheek softly, an action which caught the strange Jin's eye.
"So you were the traitor this whole time?" He questioned, Maru flinching as Teora Hao's normally stoic expression cracked with irritation.
The ChongGak dragged Maru behind him protectively. "If that's the assumption you're under, let me correct that. Maru has done nothing to lead us to this, whether you wish to believe he's fed us information or purposely led you all to the circumstances of today." Teora Hao's voice had a slight edge to it.
"In the end, I don't care." The strange Jin replied. He struggled against whatever binding was holding him in place. "It's not something I can change."
Maru's hand was suddenly pulled away from Teo's as he engaged the strange Jin,, and he made to move towards the two who resembled Teora Hao, but a heavy aura from seemingly nowhere caused him to black out and drop to the ground. A voice called out to his fading conscious in worry.
When he came back to reality, Maru found himself in Ignatio's arms, held not unlike a damsel. "Wha..." The twin of his Hyeong carefully set him down, and Maru saw that he was now in a completely different place, a square near the park that had been completely destroyed and...
Was...Was that BLOOD everywhere?
"What-" Maru began to question, only to find that Ignatio's face was abnormal.
Instead of a smile, or at the very least an uneasy one, there was a cold frown turning his mouth downwards, and his eyes...Cold, cold and orange, a darker hue than Maru's with that circling pattern that made him feel like a weapon of some sort was zeroed in on his face. "Hello chick." He said calmly, and Maru saw sight of dried blood along the taller male's hairline.
"I-Ignatio-Nim, you're-" Maru reached for the spot, only to flinch as Ignatio's hand clamped around his with a vice grip.
The strange Ignatio stared at him for a very long moment, before he lowered their limbs. "It's fine. Ho wasn't hurt too badly. However, Shin MuYeong certainly needs you."
"Wha-" Maru chirped in confusion, following as Ignatio pointed out a bunch of shapes nearby. "HYA-HYEONGNIM!" Maru squawked upon seeing MuYeong's body sitting huddled against SaeHa, whose eyes seemed reminiscent of a demented Christmas light display. He ran over immediately, the SunBi looking up at him with an exhausted gaze. "D-Doctor Hyeong, what happened?!"
MuYeong raised his head at the sound of Maru's voice, and SaeHa allowed his patient to be pulled to his feet. "Maru..." The blond was extremely caught off-guard as MuYeong hugged him tight, but he relented and patted his Hyeong's back gently, noting the many layers of bandages SaeHa had wrapped him in. Ignatio was standing close by them in a guarding position as Maru looked around, finding each TAL looking weary but whole... Except...
"Where...Where's BaekJung TAL-Nim?"
Maru's voice was quiet and soft, but the group collectively flinched as if he'd shot off his gun. He looked from SaeHa now biting his lip to raw over to Choi whose head hung dourly, and further to Ara and HaNaRin huddling close to each other and Gasun looking pained as he leaned on his staff.
"Over there, child."
Yangban was the one who called out the answer, Maru turning his head and finally seeing a white tarp on the ground...Stretched over a distinctly-human shaped mound.
"No don't-" MuYeong felt Maru begin to move and blocked him, clinging to the blond and using his full weight to immobilize Maru. "No, just don't...You don't want to see him." Something in MuYeong's tone reminded Maru of the first time someone told him about Chuh Yoong; the sheer rawness of MYeong's voice rooted Maru in place.
A quiet sound of approaching footsteps, and a familiar energy brushed Maru's awareness like a spiderweb being draped over his head.
"YOU-" MuYeong reared up like a snake, glaring as Teora Hao walked closer.
Maru held his Hyeong in place, feeling conflicted.
"The Succession has begun. Finally..." The ChongGak tapped his swordcase in his hand. "Though this is only half the outcome we would've preferred. It was sadly not my business to interfere with the Second and BiGak."
Maru easily heard Choi grit his teeth and grind them. "However, you had the power to?"
"No." Teora Hao replied, staring the Choraengi in the eye until the tallest TAL backed off, MuYeong clinging fiercely to Maru. "However, now, the Second has taken his place. And I and my comrades have yet to return to the void."
HaNaRin stepped forward, her expression stony. "And?"
"Surely that has to mean we still serve a purpose here in this world." Teora Hao replied, his eyes sweeping theirs and noting the various emotions they each held. Distrust, malice, anger...And a soft, confusion his gaze narrowed upon. "Which means even if none of us agree with it, we are all the TAL of the King. We cannot disobey his orders."
Gasun tilted his head, no cheery grin to be found on him. "Not sure if you mean to say we should get along or at least fake it, but we do have a friend to bury."
"Chuh Yoong will not be coming." The ChongGak informed them. "At least, not here. He's withdrawing, far far away. If you want BaekJung TAL to receive the burial he deserves, you must take the body to Chuh Yoong himself." Teora Hao's face pinched. "At the very least he's not throwing a tantrum."
Maru adjusted MuYeong over his shoulder. "...Ch...ChongGak-Nim..." He startled when those vivid eyes landed on him instantly. "Th-That is to say...!"
"Don't talk to him." MuYeong ordered, Maru flinching. "We're going home."
Ignatio moved into place and slung MuYeong's other arm around his own neck, helping Maru to begin carrying him away. Maru peeked over his shoulder and watched Teora Hao as they walked away from the square, the ChongGak's eyes burning into his own.
"No no no, shhh-"
The baby in Maru's arms squirmed and made a fussy whine, though to his relief it did not raise into full-blown crying. The baby, with a mop of cotton-candy blue hair and fried egg yellow eyes, had been found the previous morning, nearly a week after the incident had occurred.
As MuYeong had work to attend to despite his mental state, and Ignatio wouldn't dare go near the child after the small boy pulled his hair, it had fallen to Maru to take care of him. He didn't particularly agree to being a nanny, but the child simply would not calm down if placed in someone else's arms.
"There you go, there you go." Maru soothed as he finally extracted the child's teething ring from the freezer, the small boy immediately gumming the sprinkled doughnut shaped toy and calming down.
Maru smiled as the boy's noises died immediately, and he gently rocked the child as he left the kitchen to sit in the living room.
The exams had been the last thing on his mind during that week, and yet somehow, he'd passed them all. Now, as he rested while awaiting the other results, Maru found he'd enough time to actually take in everything that had happened.
'BaekJung is dead. Jin- No, Ja Yun, is the Second King, and HyeongNim and the others have to help him...' Maru felt the child start squirming again and he sat down to lay the baby on his back on the couch cushion, a hand over the child's belly to keep him in place. 'Not to mention this baby...Why did HyeongNim tell me to take care of him?'
"Perhaps it's because it suits you."
He jumped, the child babbling out some noise as Maru turned his head and saw the strange Jin-
"Please, Hyeong...Just call me Ja Yun."
Maru froze, his eyes locked with deadened gold. Ja Yun approached him and sat down beside the couch, his sleeve waving over the child's face which enticed the small boy to grab at the material.
"When I was this small, Granny found me out in the mountains and took me home, mistaking me for her grandchild. It was because of my weak will that I decided to stay with her, not wanting her to be alone in her final days." The King spoke as if he was reading a story, his gaze on the child. "It was my mistake, that compassion...It was my mistake that BaekJung died as well."
The other male was still silent, feeling an itch in his mind telling him to pull the baby away to safety.
"...Do you think I'm evil, Maru-Hyeong?"
Maru jumped, staring at Ja Yun. "..." He turned his head away. "...I think...there was a lot of mistakes made to make the situation as it is now. But as my own past isn't exactly innocent and clean, are you asking me to judge you honestly?"
"...Perhaps." Ja Yun looked to the child, and a weak smile broke his frown for a moment. "I think 'Haru' would suit him."
The other male frowned at the King, but had fallen silent.
"...Why did you side with them?"
He blinked at Ja Yun's sudden scowl, which looked so childish Maru was taken aback. "I-"
"Did they do something to you?" Ja Yun's accusations were laced with sadness. "When I was taken from Gotoya's side, I was fearful, and more when I saw you appear as well. I was scared that they would threaten your life, or worse, that you were going to be used to lure in Hyeong. But you-"
Maru felt his head throb as something flashed before his eyes. Teo, wiping his cheek, kissing him. 'He treats you like a dog.' "No, I-"
"...It doesn't matter, I suppose." Ja Yun eventually mumbled, watching as Maru's expression twisted with his thoughts. "I'm relying on Hyeong and the other TAL to curb the Infection. I wanted to give you a choice, but..." The King's expression was wry. "I know you'll follow him anywhere, won't you?"
Something about those words stung his core, Maru's eyebrows twisting down into a glare. "My loyalty is to HyeongNim."
The accusation hit him hard.
"I saw it. I saw him kiss you." Ja Yun spoke. "If I had any energy to be petty, I'd think of telling Hyeong."
Maru's heart pounded as he was stared at. "...I'd like, however, to believe you were just a puppet made to try and convince me in my vulnerable moment." Ja Yun stood, the child now kicking his feet with a disappointed sound. "I'll count on you as well, Hyeong. Whatever's going on in your head, you probably feel betrayed by me like the others, so I shouldn't get on your case too much."
"No, you shouldn't."
Again Maru jumped, but this time the entry of the new voice caused Ja Yun to move back quickly. Maru swept Haru into his arms as Teora Hao appeared in front of him, glowering at Ja Yun. "I'm a curious person sometimes, so this intrigues me." The King uttered, glancing from the ChongGak to Maru. "But as Hyeong would be upset if his home was damaged, I'll decline my curiosity today. Goodbye Maru-Hyeong."
"Are you alright?" Teora Hao spoke softly once Ja Yun had vanished, turning around Maru and swiping his hand over Maru's cheek in a gentle motion that made Maru's eyes flutter.
He hummed affirmatively, feeling his muscles going lax as the TAL's arms enveloped him, and Haru kitten-kicked his feet while staring at Teora Hao. The TAL smiled and poked Haru's cheek, the baby gurgling happily and grabbing the ChongGak's hair much to his visual displeasure. "Huh? N-No! No, don't do that-" Maru unwound the child's digits from Teo's hair, the TAL laughing softly.
"I don't mind. It's not a pain I've experienced before."
Maru blinked, Haru now trying to grab the TAL's necklace. "Ah...Oh?"
"Being beaten up by an opponent isn't the same as having my hair yanked by a baby." Teo clarified. "And the difference being pure curiosity versus ill intent." He scrubbed his thumbs over Maru's cheeks, leaning down to kiss Maru.
Though he'd hazarded a guess to what Teo had been planning to do, the contact still surprised Maru, whose mouth opened in a squeak. He felt the TAL's tongue invade his mouth, lapping at his teeth playfully. After a moment Haru kitten-kicked at Teo's chest, the TAL chuckling and scooping the boy out of a stunned Maru's arms. "Hello, did you want attention too?" He asked the child, who babbled and tried to grab the beaded necklace Teo was wearing.
"Ah-!" Maru recovered from his daze at hearing a car door slam, knowing it was from MuYeong. His arms were full of child once more, and a lingering warmth assured him Teo had given him a kiss goodbye when he realized the TAL had vanished from sight.
The front door opened, and MuYeong strolled in, Ignatio in tow. "Augh that took forever. Oiii, little Maru! Is dinner ready?"
"Oh!" The blond jumped, Haru whining as he tried to grab at MuYeong when he passed by them. "S-Sorry, Haru was fussing so-" Maru made to explain, patted on the head by his Hyeong.
Then, both older men paused. "Haru?"