it's for science

all we need of hell

the days leading up to the long-awaited family dinner wouldn’t be filled with excitement but treading on eggshells around the sisters has been far from seungwan’s expectations. mortals love their festivities and for the past century, christmas has become one of the most celebrated holidays. the two mortals she finds herself with are exceptions to that though. 

 

sooyoung is a little too vocal about her unwillingness to show up for the big dinner, which ends up upsetting joohyun, causing the two to argue. mediation is definitely not one of her strengths but seungwan does try, though it’s hard when she naturally wants to take joohyun’s side. in order to not further aggravate the situation, the best solution is for her to stay out of their way entirely.

 

the sisters stay out of each other's ways as well, neither of them keen on talking. joohyun grows despondent, this christmas dinner seems to be weighing her down a lot more than she lets on. at this point, seungwan is pretty sure her charge is seasoned to her jibes by now so she’s taken aback when joohyun abruptly snaps at her for making a bad joke.

 

seungwan wonders if it’s better to let things pass, but she hates seeing joohyun so tormented. the air around her is constantly heavy and the mortal hardly acts like herself. it’s tough to see her like this when seungwan so desperately wants to be there for her.

 

she decides the best thing she can do is whisk joohyun away to the rivers of lethe. if joohyun refuses to talk about it then perhaps she wouldn’t be opposed to forgetting it.

 


 

there’s not much a mortal can do when the devil wants to take them on a field trip to hell. seungwan basically flung the poor mortal over her shoulder as she summoned burger; there is only a split second for joohyun to protest before she finds herself plunging into the underworld. struggling only makes joohyun feel like seungwan is going to drop her and she does not want to fall off burger into the depths of hell. clinging to the devil tightly, joohyun doesn’t hold her curses back as they dive down. her eyes are clenched shut for the entire journey until burger comes to a stop.

 

hell burns hot in most places except in certain caves and circles. luckily for them, a part of lethe runs through a small cave somewhere in the first circle. a light gust of wind helps to soothe the mortal alongside seungwan running a hand down her back. cradling her tightly, the devil slides off burger with ease and begins walking them to an unknown location.

 

"i know you hate coming down here but i thought you needed a little getaway after the past few days." the devil's voice is quiet, "let's sit here for a couple of minutes and then we can go back."

 

the sound of her voice comforts joohyun enough for her to open her eyes. she has every intention of yelling at seungwan the moment they landed but seeing the sight before her, the words are easily forgotten.

 

the cave that seungwan has brought them to isn't as huge as the one where the festival took place but it is still of considerable size. dark, shimmery minerals run from the ground to the ceiling, making her feel as if she's floating in outer space. she's grateful that seungwan is carrying her, otherwise, the chances of her tripping over her own feet seem pretty high. seeing in the dark isn't a problem for demons but joohyun, with the gentle glow of the large river to her left, is barely able to catch a glimpse of seungwan's face. 

 

there is no sound of running water despite there being a visible current in the waters, perhaps it is due to the light fog that rests above it. she doesn't have a clue as to where they're going but seungwan seems to be following the river deeper into the cave. burger trudges along beside them, though the hound seems wary of the water, keeping a good distance from the edge.

 

"where are we?" joohuyn finally asks in a breathy whisper, awe-struck and a little afraid.

 

"the river of forgetfulness, or lethe as the demons call it." seungwan explains quietly, "one sip is enough to rid you of everything you want to forget, and one mouthful takes all your memories. before souls get reincarnated, they're obliged to drink three mouthfuls, just to make sure that the fates are delivered a clean slate."

 

joohyun cranes her neck to look up at the demon, noting that her red eyes stand out more than usual thanks to the darkness. the slight furrow of her brows isn't enough to tell joohyun what she wants to know, so she asks.

 

"why did you bring me here?"

 

the devil draws a steady breath and holds it in her lungs, gathering up her courage as she exhales. is she terrified that joohyun could take this the wrong way and become even more upset? absolutely. but she would rather try than sit by and watch her suffer for another second.

 

"this christmas dinner with your father stresses you out, i can tell. sooyoung harping on and on about how much she doesn't want to go makes things worse as well. this week has a lot, and i just want to help." seungwan's shoulders sag slightly when she speaks, "not every bad memory needs to be talked about. some things are better left in the past, and perhaps even forgotten."

 

pursing her lips, joohyun's eyes drift to the beautiful glimmer of the river. what power it holds — to allow one to forget even the most painful of memories. 

 

"have you drank from the river before?" the question almost feels too personal, but it's too late to retract her words. 

 

seungwan hums softly, the devil is no stranger to regret alongside the taste of lethe. she's lived a long time, experienced more than any mortal ever could and oftentimes, forgetting is mercy. yet, there will be no mercy for the wicked.

 

she bobs her head solemnly, "a sip or two, i wanted to forget lilith, but... i guess i wanted to hold on a lot more." 

 

and so joohyun understands the devil's intentions, she is being given an option to let go. she taps seungwan lightly so that she could be let down and the demon obliges. her hand searches for seungwan's until they interlock their fingers with ease. she lets seungwan continue to lead them further in until the cavern opens up into a much larger space. the water gathers into a circular pond in the middle and swimming around are some carps. 

 

sensing joohyun's confusion, seungwan talks before she can ask. "i come here to fish sometimes, lethe has the most normal-looking fish. if you want to see a bone fish, we could head to river acheron instead."

 

joohyun scrunches up her face, as if she wanted to be here in the first place. "you dragged me out of bed in the middle of the night, seungwan." she mutters.

 

"right..." the devil chuckles, "come on, sit with me for a little."

 

with how the cavern is shaped, a rocky ledge hangs over part of the pond. best spot when it comes to fishing in lethe, seungwan remarks when they sit with their legs dangling over the edge. hell's favourite hound lies beside his master and settles for a nap, giving the two some much-needed privacy. 

 

joohyun keeps their hands intertwined as she rests her head against seungwan's shoulder. neither of them finds the need to break the silence, maybe being with each other in a place far away from mortal troubles is enough. residual feelings as a result of her past have been resurfacing lately, and joohyun is aware that it's made her more irritable. her sister doesn't make it any easier either, she tries to weasel out of it every year but joohyun has always managed to convince her otherwise. this year, however, she seems dead set on not going.

 

but it's a problem for later.

 

the mortal releases a slow exhale, drawing the attention of the demon. "you're right... i haven't been acting like my usual self lately." joohyun murmurs, "i... well... i have a tendency to set myself up for disappointment, i suppose."

 

seungwan tilts her head in confusion, prompting her charge to elaborate with a slow nod. 

 

"my father wasn't always this distant, but things changed along the way." the mortal swallows to soothe her tightening throat, "each year he invites us for dinner... i think to myself that maybe, just maybe... we'll mend our relationship."

 

"is this why you always insist on going even if sooyoung doesn't want to?"

 

a soft hum escapes her lips, "she doesn't care for a relationship with him since he's never been around for her entire life, but... i had a father ."

 

the pain in her words instantly makes seungwan's heart ache, she wastes no time in drawing joohyun into the safety of her chest. "it's okay," the devil reassures, "you don't have to continue." 

 

despite waiting months for joohyun to open up, seungwan feels a little apprehensive about it, questioning whether it's worth having joohyun relive her past. yet, the mortal thinks otherwise.

 

"i want to." despite the quiver in her voice, joohyun has never been more determined. "i don't like to talk about it, but i don't want to forget either. i don't want to pretend like it never happened."

 

if she can get her past out, it'll be a step forward in opening up to others. perhaps, seungwan will provide the courage she needs to move on.

 

the devil presses a feathered kiss to the crown of her head, "if that’s what you really want then… whenever you're ready, hyun."

 


 

if you asked seven-year-old bae joohyun if she was happy, she wouldn't hesitate to say yes. after all, there would be no reason for her to say no, it was her favourite day of the week — sunday.

 

sundays were always great, she'd get to stay up for an hour after her usual bedtime the night before and get to sleep in a little later in the morning. when she jumps out of bed at a quarter after nine, the delicious scent of breakfast wafts through the house. it is accompanied by the sound of someone bustling around in the kitchen, inserting tiny moments of bliss in a life that some would dub as mundane.

 

not a thing would feel out of place when joohyun plopped herself down in front of the television to watch her cartoons.

 

by the time the episode finishes, breakfast is ready. sometimes she would linger, eyes glued to the screen while the teaser for the next episode plays. her father would scoop her up and throw her over his shoulder, and the sound of her giggles and protests would fill the air.

 

the family of three would then settle down for breakfast, enjoying whatever her mother whipped up. after all, she thought the world of her mother, she never made a single bad dish.

 

sunday mornings were her favourites, though seven-year-old joohyun could never explain why beyond simple reasons like mama and papa let her watch cartoons before breakfast.

 

she'd grow to understand why when the fates decided to strip every ounce of happiness from them.

 

the beginning of the end started like any sunday morning, but this time, traces of a perfect morning were absent. to make things worse, joohyun had missed five minutes of her favorite show. she'd been looking forward to it too, but that was the last thing on her mind when she found her mother collapsed on the kitchen floor. 

 

she doesn't remember crying, but the tears that rolled down her cheeks said otherwise. the wailing of a siren replaced the usual sizzle of a pan and for the first time in her life, joohyun experienced what it means to lose something important to her.

 

but she wouldn't know for a little while, she still believed that things would go back to normal — she believed mama's words.

 

yet, sunday mornings were never the same after that. the cancer spread like wildfire in a matter of months, turning mama into a husk of the person that she used to be. watching cartoons before breakfast turned into visits at the hospital. mama's cooking was replaced by takeouts, much to her dismay. as far as joohyun knew, mama was sick, but nobody told her she was dying.

 

joohyun didn't understand the changes, but she still did everything mama told her to do because mama said it would make her feel better. she wasn't naive to believe her, mama said lying was bad, so doubt never crossed her mind.

 

things tend to get better before they get a lot worse, and that's exactly what happened. spending time in the hospital leads her to accidentally eavesdrop on the conversations of the adults. there was talk about mama getting discharged , even if she doesn't know what it means, the smile on papa's face told her enough. 

 

but then, as abruptly as they started, the hospital visits stopped.

 

she was a smart kid, that's how she knew mama wasn't coming home when papa tried to tell her she's gone to a faraway place. death had always been something resembling a myth, joohyun was aware of its existence but she never believed in it, until it proved its presence by taking mama away. 

 

and what she didn't know was that it took more than just a person, it left remnants of grief that seeped into every inch of her life. and grief had an insatiable appetite, it ate up all the brightness in her life until she no longer raced out of bed on sunday mornings. there was no comforting clattering of pots and pans to accompany her cartoons and no breakfast waiting for her on the dining table either. the house grew silent just as papa grew distant, no matter where they went, it seemed like the absence of mama would always haunt them.

 

so joohyun got used to being alone while papa spent more and more time working; life was just easier without the glaring fact that their family was on the precipice of falling apart.

 

independence came naturally to the young girl, and joohyun learnt to take care of herself and stay out of papa's way, especially on nights when he came home reeking of alcohol. things were fine, she knew that they would never return to the way things were, so she gradually accepted her new reality.

 

her semblance of peace would last for two years until a fever gets the better of her. papa looked frustrated when he came to pick her up from school, even more so when he was talking on the phone while speeding home. pleas for an extension for a deadline were met with a firm no. despite her fever-induced haze, joohyun felt that something was amiss when papa hung up.

 

papa had never hit her or yelled at her, but every now and then, when joohyun looked into his eyes, all she could see was contempt. he did what he could, fed and clothed her, but anything beyond that was seemingly past his limits. he wasn't a bad person, and joohyun believed that even as he rammed their car straight into the side of another.

 

the fear of dying doesn't set in instantly despite the sharp pain that had just shot through her entire body. her eyes had been squeezed shut since the moment of impact and they remained shut with every new collision. it took what felt like an eternity for everything to still, and when joohyun finally opened her eyes to take in her current predicament, the scene would remain in her memory for years to come. 

 

given her size, there was just enough space at the back for her to survive the other collisions, but not enough for her to escape. the doors were threatening to crush her and the roof of the car was caving in. this was where the panic began. realizations began to fall into place as her mind pushed aside the fatigue from her fever — she was going to die if she didn't get out.

 

papa! she screamed, for the first time in a long time, joohyun cried out for her father only to come face to face with the sinking realization that he was nowhere to be found. loud sobs tore from as she pleaded for his presence, yet he never reappeared. trembling, joohyun sought out other ways of salvation.

 

the driver's side window was shattered, however, and if she could just crawl out from the back, she would make it.

 

if only she could.

 

unfortunately for her, in another plane of existence, three otherworldly beings decided that this is how the young girl would meet her demise. no matter how she struggled, no matter how hard she screamed, bae joohyun’s legs were meant to be wedged between the seats and nobody would think that the irresponsible drunk driver had a kid in the back. 

 

but that was hardly the extent of their cruelty, a loud boom erupted from the front, causing joohyun to jump while it caught her attention. 

 

the crushed bonnet was doing little against the red hot flames that poured from the damaged engine, in a matter of minutes, the whole car would be engulfed in flames. thick smoke began to fill the car, leaving joohyun teary-eyed as she struggled to draw fresh air into her lungs. the blaze grew, and with it, an unbearable heat. if nobody heard her cries for help before, they certainly would not hear her now. the fire spread quickly, devouring everything in its path, joohyun would be next, and she knew it all too well.

 

the heat was hot enough to singe her skin before the flames even got close to her, and it hurt more than anything she had ever experienced. joohyun wailed, voice cracking as she pleaded for any sort of help. even a swift death would have been welcomed. but for the young girl, it seemed that mercy was a rarity.

 

joohyun would eventually surrender to the flames, her cries dying down as the vehicle became fully engulfed by the blaze. the last thoughts of a nine-year-old facing the wrath of the fates were anything but blissful, perhaps, that was why they had a change of heart.

 


 

if she could, seungwan swears that she would've buried this man down to the ninth circle. going through the hellfire barrier without her hound wouldn't be enough punishment, but the devil has plans for scum like him. grinding her teeth barely helps to rein in her anger and frustration — how dare he?  

 

a sniffle slips from joohyun and her fury becomes secondary. her past hasn’t been easy to listen to, but it must've been harder for joohyun to talk about it. cupping her cheeks, seungwan wipes away the stray tears from joohyun's eyes. her heart aches at the sight of joohyun looking so small and broken, if only she had been here earlier, she could've stopped it all.

 

"nothing like that will ever happen again, i promise you." seungwan whispers gently, "you're safe with me."

 

the ache in her jaw makes it hard to get the words out, so joohyun nods instead. shutting her eyes, she takes a moment to collect herself. she didn't plan on shedding tears but they seem to come in waves, there's an explicable ache in her chest yet she also feels much lighter. 

 

she gently pries seungwan's hands off her cheeks and inches closer so that she would wrap her in a warm embrace once again. hugging her charge is instinctive at this point, if only hugs could take away the pain that she has been through. seungwan holds her as she continues to share.

 

“i don’t remember when i passed out but when i woke up, i was being treated for smoke inhalation instead of third-degree burns. i felt… odd… like a part of me knew that i was supposed to be dead." joohyun murmurs, remembering that vivid sensation of not belonging, "i tried to tell the nurses but all they did was refer me to a psychiatrist. it was futile to insist i was right, so i just let the adults call it whatever they wanted to."

 

seungwan hums softly, "it's a side effect, the angels can bring you back from the brink of death but they don't have the power to erase memories."

 

"the more i know, hmm? "

 

the devil cracks a small smile, "don't hesitate to ask."

 

joohyun shakes her head with curved in an amused smile. though seungwan may be infuriating at times, the certainty of her presence and the comfort her words bring always puts the mortal at ease. the tightness in dissipates slightly when she decides to continue while omitting certain details.

 

it doesn't matter how much time has passed, joohyun still can't bring herself to speak the truth — that her own father wanted her dead. either that or the unwillingness to admit it stops her, she continues to cling to the fact that her father isn't a bad person, that he just couldn't be the father she needed. 

 

"i never saw papa after the accident, he had a bunch of different charges but the main one was drunk driving. the social workers wouldn’t let him near me after that." joohyun raises her shoulders slightly as if it'll downplay just how much it hurts to be left alone, "without him, i had no other family around, so sooyoung’s mother took me in."

 

seungwan frowns, something doesn't add up. joohyun and sooyoung are pretty close in age, yet they share the same father. but if joohyun's mother was around till she was seven, that would mean—

 

"he cheated!"

 

the mortal bobs her head slowly, "sooyoung's mother told me the truth when i was a little older. she was a close friend of my mother's, and it was a mistake. mama knew, they told her afterwards because of the guilt but neither of my parents knew about sooyoung. papa only found out when she took me in."

 

"were you upset that they betrayed your mother?" seungwan asks softly.

 

"a little, but she wasn't the one that caused our family to fall apart. in fact, she tried to stay away until papa pleaded with her to take me in." joohyun purses her lips, "i'm grateful that she did, i didn't have anyone else to rely on back then."

 

"now you do, you have sooyoung, me, and the entirety of hell." 

 

the sound of joohyun’s chuckle echoes through the cavern, "you're the only demon i would trust with my life."

 

"stop, hyun, you're making me blush." the devil whines, and thanks to the dim glow of the pond, joohyun is able to catch sight of the wide grin plastered on her face. 

 

a wave of affection washes over her, it happens every so often when she finds herself in pockets of silence with seungwan. "i mean it, i really do trust you and you make me feel safe." joohyun admits shyly, her voice dropping in volume  as she confesses things she never would've expected to say, "i hope you stick around for a long time."

 

a smug smile appears on the devil's face and the urge to charge is at an all-time high but she would rather ingrain this moment in her memory than ruin it.

 

"as long as you want me to," seungwan nods, "you're my favourite mortal, after all, there's no one else i rather be around."

 

instead of seungwan being the one to ruin their surprisingly intimate moment, joohyun cringes in response and of course, seungwan catches it.

 

"yah... i thought we were having a moment!"

 

"we were but you usually express your affection physically," joohyun motions to how seungwan still has her arms around her, "you saying it out loud in a non-flirtatious manner caught me off guard, that's all."

 

seungwan puckers her lips indignantly, "so what i'm hearing is that i should be saying mushy things more often instead?"

 

"no, i like your hugs." joohyun smiles, "you don't have to change anything."

 

it's a wonderful feeling to be loved, and she wants to return that sentiment. turning toward the devil, joohyun hesitates her next move. her heart thrums louder with every second she waits, and seungwan definitely notices. she tries to open to but joohyun doesn't give her the chance to. 

 

a momentary burst of courage is all she needs to grab seungwan by her jacket and press their lips together. her fingers tighten around the lapels to attempt to steady the trembling of her hands, but her nerves still get the better of her. ultimately, it's seeing the devil's eyes widen with shock that reassures her that everything she feels, seungwan does too. she can't help her cheeks from lifting into a smile as she shuts her eyes, deepening their kiss while she moves to straddle the demon. 

 

dear god, she's not sorry in the slightest. in fact, she wants to thank him.

 

seungwan, as surprised as she may be, allows joohyun to move her hands up her chest. with a feathered touch, the mortal traces her jaw before locking her arms behind the nape of her neck.

 

stunned beyond belief, seungwan hasn't moved from her spot. her brain is screaming at her to reciprocate it in some way, but she feels frozen at the familiar feeling caused by joohyun's lips against hers. a single tear rolls down her cheek just as joohyun pulls back to catch her breath, leaving a bittersweet feeling in her soul.

 

"what's wrong? did i do something wrong?" a panicked joohyun rushes to check on her, she had been too anxious about kissing her that she neglected the thought that seungwan would be uncomfortable.

 

seungwan shakes her head quickly, "no, not at all. i'm incredibly happy right now, it's just... i got reminded of her. you feel so much like her. " her voice cracks slightly as she trails off, "i'm sorry, it's... i don't know..."

 

joohyun supposes they're in a weird situation since she is the reincarnation of seungwan's ex. it could be possible for seungwan to confuse her feelings for lilith with her feelings for her, but she knows for a fact that seungwan cares for her.

 

"i guess it's a little tricky since i look like your ex." joohyun tries to lighten the situation with a quip, "i truly do hope my feelings for you are my own, but perhaps it's like you've said before, i hold parts of her. if i remind you of the love that she gave you once, then so be it. what matters is you feel it."

 

an ache creeps along her jaw as seungwan holds back more tears. she's always resigned herself to the fact that lilith is gone for good, but she's wrong. none of her reincarnations have loved her in the same way — until now, until joohyun. she chokes back a sob, and despite her tears, she couldn’t be happier. she hasn't felt warmth like this in a long time.

 

drawing a deep breath, seungwan makes a request. "can you do me a favour?"

 

"yeah?"

 

"can you kiss me again?" she asks, "it's for science."

 

the mortal scoffs and rolls her eyes, but obliges in the name of science, or so the devil says. 

 


end notes:

have been kinda excited to post this one, let me know what you think!
and yuhhh they finally kissed, can you believe it!!!!!! was feeling a little upsetti but writing their smoochie scene cheered me up. can't believe how much i enjoy writing about these idiots ugh. i missed being so invested in this story tbh, kinda wanna start on the next chap asap because we're going back into another angsty phase ^_^
thanks for reading!

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ILJIDO
it's been 30 chapters and they haven't kissed, is this counted as slowburn?
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