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Blood, Water

Chapter Text

It was a vampire den.

Bodies were crowded in the room, red light casting garish shadows over exposed skin and sleek furniture. Alcohol glimmered red in glasses. Everyone seemed to be holding a drink, letting it slosh over the sides and spill to the floor, the fruity scent almost enough to mask the pervasive smell of humanity. People swayed to smooth music played over hidden speakers, bodies in time with the rhythm. It almost looked like a normal club. 

But eyes followed the movements of the dancers. Intense, inhuman eyes. And they were hungry.

Hongjoong should’ve known. He should’ve known the moment San didn’t want him to come along, when he’d made whatever reason he could think of to go alone, or with only Yunho. But Hongjoong had known him five years, and he’d put his foot down. It turned out he hadn’t known him well enough.

“We’re leaving,” said Hongjoong. 

San turned to him, pouting. “But we just got here! Can’t we stay a little?”

He had dressed up, eyes lined with black and lips tinted red. It accentuated his sharp features, made him look older than his twenty-one years, older than Hongjoong. His dark red hair was parted, and with his black button-down tucked into tight black jeans, he fit in with the club atmosphere perfectly.

“Not one second longer,” said Hongjoong, shouting to be heard over the music. He fought the urge to drag San out by the back of his neck, like he had when they’d been kids and Hongjoong had been bigger than him. 

“Oh, come on,” said Yunho. “He’s right, we just got here. The music’s good, and I’m in the mood for a drink.”

Hongjoong wanted to refuse, really be firm and strict. But he’d never been good at that, especially not when San looked at him with eyes all big and shiny, like he was doing right then. 

“One hour,” said Hongjoong finally. “And we stick together.”

San cheered and grabbed Hongjoong in a tight hug. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said, squeezing.

Yunho joined in the hug, not really that grateful, just wanting to be included. Hongjoong let them squeeze the breath out of him awhile, and then broke free. “One hour,” he repeated, trying to sound firm, but it was difficult in the face of San’s bright smile. He sighed. “How did you hear about this place anyway?”

“One of my friends told me,” said San. “She said it was the hottest place. She comes here all the time.”

“Did she also tell you it’s a…?” Hongjoong trailed off, raised an eyebrow.

“A what?” San’s features were painted with innocence. 

Hongjoong sighed. “Never mind,” he said. “Just make sure you don’t go off alone. We’re sticking together.”

They entered the throng of bodies on the dance floor. Hongjoong loved dancing, and if it was a normal club he would’ve already been losing himself to the music.

But it wasn’t a normal club. It was a vampire den.

Vampires. The government denied their existence, claiming they were nothing more than a dark myth. But if you went out at night to the seedier parts of Seoul you might be knocked unconscious, waking to find yourself completely unharmed but for two small pricks in your neck. In the winter you might spot strange people at night, scarves drawn up and around their mouths to hide the fact that their breath didn’t frost in the cold air. You could spot apartments, supposedly empty, with windows all boarded up to prevent even the smallest bit of sunlight from entering. They seemed to pop up without explanation, more and more of them every day.

And clubs like this.

All sorts of rumors swirled around. With the mystery, there was curiosity. People wanted to know about vampires. 

It was a popular whisper. They said clubs like this were safe spaces, places where you could meet vampires and have them drink from you. Hongjoong had heard the rumor more than once, that the vampire’s bite was like a drug, but he never paid them attention. He didn’t even care if they were true or not. He liked adventure, but he also liked safety. 

San was different. Maybe it was because he was younger, maybe it was because he’d always had Hongjoong to protect him when things went wrong, but he’d never given much of a damn about his own safety. Otherwise why would he bring them to a club filled with vampires? 

Hongjoong looked over at the two younger men dancing nearby. They were so different, and yet so similar.

San was slender, all sharp lines and angles. He rolled his hips, playful smirk on his face, asking for attention and getting it easily. 

In contrast Yunho was tall and well-built, legs long and shoulders wide. He was a great dancer, but he danced for himself, not caring if anyone else found him attractive or not. 

They were Hongjoong’s boys. He was only a few years older than them, but he felt responsible for them, like he had the first time they’d met five years ago. If anyone tried to hurt them, vampire or not, Hongjoong would end them.

San had attracted an admirer, a guy with dark hair who matched his moves. He came up to him, deep in his personal space, but San grinned, enjoying the closeness. The stranger said something in his ear, and San giggled and smiled even wider.

Hongjoong watched from an acceptable distance. He didn’t mind San getting some action—he was an adult after all—but it needed to be human action. No vampire dick.

“No vampire dick,” he muttered aloud.

It was impossible to tell if Mr. Black Hair was a vampire and thus in possession of a vampire dick, so they’d have to err on the side of caution and dump him just in case. San probably wouldn’t like that, judging by the way he was grinding up against him, but Hongjoong had to be a strict dad sometimes. He’d make it up by cutting off the crusts on San’s sandwiches the next morning.

He turned to go get Yunho and found him in a worse position. A girl was dancing up against him, as close as she could get. He looked up and made eye contact with Hongjoong, giving him a look of mute terror and pleading. 

Hongjoong squeezed between bodies to reach his side, and he tapped the girl on the shoulder. She ignored him and kept on dancing, so he was forced to put himself between her and Yunho. She noticed him then, and glared.

“Sorry, please leave,” said Hongjoong. He had to shout over the music. 

“Who the hell are you?” she asked. She spoke English with a foreign accent, and he could see now that she wasn’t Korean. 

“I’m his boyfriend,” said Hongjoong, answering in English.

The girl nodded and mouthed sorry, and then went off to find someone else to dance with.

“Did you tell her I’m your boyfriend?” asked Yunho, making a face. “Gross.”

“Wow, after I saved you,” said Hongjoong, with a light shove. Yunho didn’t budge. “Come on, let’s go home.”

“Sure,” said Yunho. “Where’s San?”

Hongjoong whipped his head around. In the spot where San was supposed to be were a group of girls. He looked around, but even in the dim red lights it was obvious there was no one he recognized anywhere nearby. 

San was gone. And so was the dark-haired stranger.

Hongjoong groaned. No. 

He turned back to Yunho. “Go to the bar and wait for me,” he said. “I’m going to find San.”

“I could help,” said Yunho. “We’ll find him quicker if we both look.”

“No,” said Hongjoong. He didn’t want Yunho wandering around alone in a vampire den. “We’ll end up separated again. Just wait for me. I’ll be back soon.”

Yunho didn’t look happy, but he nodded.

Hongjoong waded through the crowd, taking out his phone and trying San’s number as he did. No answer. He wasn’t surprised—it was hard to even hear himself think over the music. 

He wandered the floor uselessly, feeling frustration slowly turn to despair, when he noticed a door heading into a hallway. It was tucked away in a corner, easy to miss. Hongjoong went for it without hesitation. If the dark-haired stranger was a vampire, he’d want to take San somewhere secluded before he fed on him.

A lump formed in Hongjoong’s throat, and he swallowed it down.

The hallway beyond the door was quieter, and empty. The music came in through the open door, but it was muted, and Hongjoong could think now. The hallway was lit blue, a sharp contrast to the dance floor, and it looked posh, expensive. Doors lined the walls on either side, all closed. 

Hongjoong’s heart pounded in his chest. He didn’t know what was happening behind those closed doors. He didn’t want to know. But San could be behind any of them, alone with a vampire intent on drinking his blood, and Hongjoong had to find him. 

He tried the first door, and found it unlocked. Hongjoong opened it and entered.

The room was small, nothing in it but seats and a small table. The seats were like at a booth in a diner, fixed to the wall behind them and stretching from one end of the room to the other. In the dim light they looked inky black. The table was wooden, and bare.

There was nobody else in the room. Hongjoong was about to leave and try one of the others when he heard the door behind him open with a click.

“Hello.”

The voice was light, pleasant. Hongjoong turned around slowly, fighting every instinct that told him to run.

It was a young man. Not tall, but taller than Hongjoong, with hair that looked black in the dimly lit room. He was dressed in a short leather jacket and jeans, not very expensively, but not bad. He was quite handsome too, with large eyes and lips that curled upwards.

He looked human. But Hongjoong looked at his chest and saw it still and unmoving. The man didn’t breathe.

Vampire.

“You been here before?” asked the vampire.

Hongjoong couldn’t speak. He shook his head.

“That’s alright,” said the vampire. “I won’t hurt you. Except maybe a bit at the beginning.”

“No—” The word caught in Hongjoong’s throat as the vampire was suddenly in front of him. With unnatural strength he was moved to the seats and pushed down onto them. The vampire sat next to him, sliding closer.

Panic whirled in Hongjoong’s brain, poisoning his thoughts. His body felt frozen. He had to get out. He had to get out.

“I’m—I’m not—” He tried to talk, but the words felt solid in his throat. “I don’t—I’m just looking for my friend—”

“Don’t tell me you’re into that roleplay shit,” said the vampire. “Fine, whatever. I’ll be your friend.”

He didn’t look happy. Terror spiked in Hongjoong’s chest, digging into him like knives. He’d made the vampire angry.

“No, I’m sorry,” said Hongjoong. He backed away, until he was pressed against the wall, but the vampire kept moving, coming closer and closer. “I’m just—I came with my friend—”

The vampire pounced.

He was on top of Hongjoong, caging him against the wall. Hongjoong tried to escape, but the vampire darted his face forward and there was nowhere to escape to. There was a sharp pain in the side of Hongjoong’s neck, and then—

Bliss.

Nothing else mattered. Nothing else existed. Hongjoong felt himself floating, being carried away in a gentle fog that tugged at his limbs, sent tingles along his skin. All his thoughts were swept away. All his worries, the stress he had carried for so long it had become inlaid in his neck and shoulders—it dissolved, leaving nothing but a serene emptiness. A void he could float in forever, a void he could lose himself in to mind-numbing ecstasy.

The feeling ebbed, not so sharp it was jarring, but enough for Hongjoong to become vaguely aware of his surroundings. He was reclining on something. Two people were speaking, but he could barely understand what they were saying. Words floated in on a tide. He caught “... didn’t say…” and “... I didn’t know…”. There was more talking, one voice louder than the other, but Hongjoong couldn’t grasp anymore.

And then there was movement, and a light shone into his eyes. Hongjoong groaned, trying to turn away from it. He didn’t want light. He wanted that emptiness back.

Someone was saying something. Someone with their face right in front of Hongjoong’s. All their features were out of focus, but he could see dark hair. Then the face moved out of sight.

Hongjoong stirred. He wanted to float again, but the feeling was getting weaker and weaker. Slowly, like the fading of night at dawn, he became more aware of his surroundings. Things came into focus. Dim light, a ceiling overhead, a table to his right. And someone sitting by his feet. 

Someone with dark hair, a white shirt, dark pants. Someone with a calming voice that said, “Easy. It’ll fade. Just rest.”

“Who?” The word came out thick and slurred. Who are you?

“I’m sorry,” said the voice.

Hongjoong fell back down onto the seats. He was trying to think, but the fog clung to the corners of his brain. He was in a club, he remembered walking into it. Why had he gone inside a club? Because—San—

Something vibrated against his thigh. It took him a moment to realize it was his phone. Hongjoong managed to slide it out of his pocket. The glare of the screen blinded him, but he was able to pick up the call. He let the phone rest against his ear.

“Hyung, where are you? I’ve been calling you—I found San but then we couldn’t find you and—are you okay? Are you still in here—”

Yunho. It was Yunho. “Yunho,” Hongjoong managed to say.

“—I was—hyung, are you drunk?”

The memories seeped in. He wasn’t drunk. He’d been bitten. A vampire had cornered him, bitten him, and had drunk from him. And then—then—

Hongjoong’s gaze fixed on the person sitting at his feet. A young man, with dark hair and features that became more and more handsome as his vision cleared.

Another vampire.

“I’m coming,” said Hongjoong, forcing the words out. “Where?”

“By the bar,” said Yunho. “Near where you left me. Shit, hyung, you don’t sound okay. Should I come get you? Where are you?”

“Coming,” repeated Hongjoong, and ended the call.

He had to get up. He had to get back to Yunho and San and get away—

He forced himself upright. His head spun and he almost fell over, but hands took hold of his arm and shoulder, keeping him up. Hongjoong recoiled from the touch, jerking his arm away.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” said the dark-haired man. Man? Vampire. He was a vampire. 

Hongjoong sat still, waiting until he was more steady. Then he tried standing. 

He got to his feet and pitched to the side. Blindly, he reached out and grabbed the first thing he could reach, and steadied himself.

It was the vampire’s forearm. He was standing a distance away, holding out his arm but not coming any closer. Hongjoong couldn’t even think of letting go of the support, he knew he’d fall over immediately. So he grit his teeth and stepped forward. The vampire went with him.

They walked out of the room, Hongjoong in front. Little by little his legs regained their strength, and the fog cleared. By the time they reached the end of the hallway he was steady enough to walk by himself. He let go of the vampire’s arm.

“You’re not here alone, are you?” asked the vampire. “Can you make it to where your friends are?”

The vampire was handsome. Hongjoong could see him clearly now, his strong features, high cheekbones and sharp lips, the shine in his beautiful eyes. 

“Yes,” said Hongjoong. He almost thanked him, but didn’t.

“Okay,” said the vampire. “Again, I’m so sorry.”

Hongjoong didn’t say anything in return. He went out into the main area of the club.

The music sounded oddly dull to his ears, like half the sounds were muted. It wasn’t easy navigating the crowded bodies, but he pushed through. He felt like everyone’s eyes were on him, on the marks he must’ve had stark on his neck, and he hurriedly put his collar up. He kept his head down and kept going until he reached the bar on the other end of the room.

He’d just escaped the crush of bodies when arms went around him, squeezing him into a bear hug. Hongjoong tensed a moment before he recognized the warmth. 

“You just disappeared,” said Yunho, still holding him close. “Me and San kept calling you but you didn’t pick up, and after you kept talking about how we shouldn’t split up, I don’t know, I got worried…”

“It’s okay, I’m okay,” said Hongjoong. He waited for Yunho to let go, and then smiled up at him.

“What happened?” asked Yunho. “Where were you?”

“Got lost in the back,” said Hongjoong, a half-lie. “It’s even louder back there. I didn’t hear my phone ringing.”

That satisfied Yunho. He stepped back, and Hongjoong caught sight of San.

The younger man looked very sorry, wringing his hands in guilt. Hongjoong propped up a smile at him, and said, “Let’s go home.”

In a second San was by his side, squeezing him into a hug. Hongjoong hugged him back briefly, and then the three of them left the club together.

The air outside was cool after the heat of the packed room. The streets were empty, not a single car anywhere nearby. Hongjoong noticed movement in the alley between the club building and the one beside it, and he instinctively put himself between it and San, who had his arm linked around his.

As Yunho took out his phone and tried to call a car, Hongjoong asked San quietly, “Where were you?”

“In the club, at the back of the room,” said San. “I’m sorry I didn’t pick up the phone. I really didn’t hear it ring.”

Hongjoong hesitated. “That guy you were dancing with,” he said slowly. “Did he…?”

“Did he what?” asked San. He broke out into a devilish grin. “Hyung, you perv, you know I don’t kiss and tell.” He smacked Hongjoong’s shoulder playfully.

But Hongjoong wasn’t in the mood for joking. “San, just tell me,” he said.

His tone was enough to sober San up. “We just made out a little,” he said. “He wanted me to go back with him to some room or something, but I wasn’t interested. So he left.”

He didn’t look like he was lying, and Hongjoong didn’t want to think he was lying. But his eyes still went to San’s neck. 

Smooth, unmarked. No vampire had sunk their fangs into it. 

“Okay,” he said, trying not to think about fang marks on San’s arm, or his shoulder, or any of a thousand hideable places a vampire could’ve bitten him. 

San smiled, bright and sunny. “What about you?” he asked innocently. “Did you meet any hot guys?”

“No, not everyone is as popular as you,” sighed Hongjoong dramatically, and San laughed.

“Okay, bad news,” said Yunho, drifting back to the two of them. “Can’t get a car. It’s like this place is a no-go zone.”

No big wonder why. “We’ll have to walk a bit,” said Hongjoong. “It’s fine.” 

But the streetlights felt weak, hardly any shield against the darkness of the night. There was more movement in the dark alley, and Hongjoong quietly herded them in the opposite direction. The building behind them was crawling with vampires, not all of them as polite as the one San had danced with. Hongjoong felt his skin crawl over the side of his neck, and fought the urge to rub at it. 

Their shadows stretched, shrank, overlapped as they passed under the yellow streetlamps. All the windows on either side were dark and closed, most of them shuttered. Hongjoong briefly wondered if everyone had left because of the vampire den, or if the vampires had chosen this area because it was so empty, and then decided it wasn’t important. None of them were coming back here ever again.

They reached the end of the street, and it was just as bare. No people, no cars. Yunho sighed and took out his phone again, while San cheerfully suggested they walk the rest of the way.

“Dude, are you serious?” said Yunho, half-laughing. “We live in, like, the other side of the city. It’ll be morning by the time we reach home.”

“I don’t wanna stand here, waiting for a car that won’t show up,” said San. “Come on. I’m not tired. Are you tired?”

“It’s not me I’m worried about,” said Yunho. “Look at Hongjoong-hyung. Look at his little legs. He can’t keep up with us.”

“I’ll make you carry me all the way,” said Hongjoong, giving Yunho a whack that just made him grin wider. It felt good, making dumb jokes and smiling. They were okay after all, on their way home. They’d all gotten out of the den unscathed. Well, more or less.

“Excuse me, do you need to get home?”

Hongjoong jumped. He didn’t know that voice. 

There, standing just two paces away from them, was a guy. Hongjoong hadn’t heard or seen him approach. He was young, and short and slight, with dark hair that fell in curls around his forehead. He was beautiful. Even in the ugly glow of the streetlamps he was exceedingly pretty, with delicate, almost fairy-like features. The light, oversized sweater he wore added to the effect.

“Yeah, we tried to call a car, but no one wants to come,” said Yunho. 

“They won’t, not around here,” said the stranger. His voice was deep, deeper than you’d expect looking at him. “You’ll need to walk to the end of the next street over. There’re some markets that stay open around there. You might even find a cab.” 

“Thanks,” said San. He turned to Yunho. “See, we could’ve just kept walking.”

Hongjoong tuned out their conversation. He was watching the stranger, trying to see if his chest rose and fell, if he was breathing. If he was alive.

The stranger looked at Hongjoong. Hongjoong was too surprised to look away, and they locked gazes. And then the stranger’s gaze flicked to Hongjoong’s neck, and the hint of a smile touched his pretty lips. A shudder ran through Hongjoong’s body, from the ends of his hair down to his toes.  

“Glad to help,” said the stranger. He graced Hongjoong with a polite smile, and then walked past them, towards the club.

“Do you think one of us should go drop him off wherever he’s going?” asked San. “He’s all alone.”

“I think he’ll be fine,” said Hongjoong, trying to forget the sight of that knowing smile. “Come on, let’s go.” 

The three of them kept walking, putting distance between them and the club. Every step made Hongjoong feel lighter, eased some of the tension that had grabbed hold of his neck and shoulder.

Vampires. Vampires everywhere. Hongjoong prayed none of them ever ran into them again. As far as he was concerned this night had never happened, nothing more than a nightmare he could forget about and leave to the shadow of his memory. He’d seen enough vampires to last him a lifetime. 

The pretty one under the streetlights who knew with a glance he’d been bitten. The dark-haired one who’d gotten too close to San. The vampire who’d caged Hongjoong in the back of the club and sunk his fangs into his skin. 

The handsome vampire with the gentle hands and soft voice who’d silently supported him. He wished with every piece of his soul he never saw them again.

The side of his neck tingled, a reminder of the bite. Hongjoong swallowed and kept walking.

Chapter Text

“I really didn’t know, promise—”

“Enough.”

Jongho fell silent, looking away. His face looked perfectly contrite, but there was no emotion in his eyes.

Seonghwa sighed, running a hand over his face. Things like this weren’t supposed to happen. It was why they’d joined the club in the first place.

“I didn’t hurt him,” muttered Jongho, barely audible. “I just drank from him.”

“He didn’t want to be drunk from,” said Seonghwa. “It doesn’t matter if you hurt him or not.”

“But I didn’t hurt him, or even get close to draining him,” protested Jongho. “It’s just blood. He’s got more. Hell, his body’s probably already busy making more.”

“Jongho,” said Seonghwa sharply. 

The younger vampire shut his mouth and avoided eye contact, which suited Seonghwa just fine. He didn’t want to scold him any more. Jongho wasn’t Seonghwa’s child, not by blood, but that had never mattered to him.

“Go get Wooyoung,” said Seonghwa. “We’re going home.”

Jongho grumbled but got up and went in search of Wooyoung. Seonghwa was glad Yeosang was home, watching Mingi. He wished now he’d left Jongho with them.

Seonghwa ran a hand through his hair again. It wasn’t Jongho’s fault, not entirely. He thought of forced feeding as something akin to robbery, or theft. Most vampires did. Not for the first time Seonghwa wondered if he was the one who was strange, insisting on feeding only from willing humans. 

In a few minutes Jongho returned, Wooyoung in tow. Wooyoung looked chipper and flushed, meaning he’d had a hot dance partner or good meal or both.

“What’s up?” asked Wooyoung. 

“We’re going home,” said Seonghwa. 

Wooyoung didn’t complain, proving he’d fed well. He just shrugged, and was already heading towards the couch to get his jacket when he abruptly stopped and turned towards the door.

A second later, Yeosang walked in, beautiful as ever. He was dressed in a pink oversized sweater, a perfect complement to his petite frame and delicate features.

“What are you doing here?” asked Seonghwa, surprised. Yeosang was supposed to be watching Mingi.

“I was bored,” said Yeosang with a shrug. He walked over to Wooyoung.

“And Mingi?” Seonghwa stared at him in disbelief.

“He’s at home,” said Yeosang, taking Wooyoung’s jacket off the hook and handing it to him. He caught Seonghwa’s expression and said, “Relax, hyung. He’s not an animal. He can handle a little time alone.”

“I didn’t say he was an animal,” muttered Seonghwa, but no one paid him any attention.

“You should’ve seen the guy I was dancing with, Yeosangie,” said Wooyoung. “He was so good! His moves, his expressions, everything. Like a pro.”

“Good to know you had fun,” said Yeosang, fond smile touching the corners of his lips. “You fed?”

Wooyoung hummed happily, and the smile on Yeosang’s face grew. 

Seonghwa watched them silently. In their little coven, Wooyoung and Yeosang were the only ones related by blood, both of them having the same maker. It gave them a bond Seonghwa secretly envied. He had no living blood bonds.

“And you?” asked Yeosang, addressing Jongho.

“I did,” said Jongho shortly. “Though I guess Seonghwa-hyung would rather I starved.”

Yeosang raised an eyebrow at that, and then sighed, like he didn’t even want to know anymore. 

“Someone wandered into the back rooms,” explained Seonghwa. “Jongho fed from him.”

“So? That’s what the back rooms are for,” said Yeosang.

“That person was new,” said Seonghwa, ignoring Jongho’s look of validation. “And he was not looking for a bite.”

“Did Jongho know that?” asked Yeosang. 

“I didn’t,” said Jongho at once. “I found a human in the room, I assumed he was there for what they’re always there for.”

“You should’ve asked him,” said Seonghwa, turning to him. “You should’ve asked and only fed after he said yes.”

“I thought he was one of the kinky pervs, you know the type—”

“It doesn’t matter—”

“I saw him,” said Yeosang.

Seonghwa stopped. “What?”

“The human Jongho fed from,” said Yeosang. “Short, red hair? I could smell Jongho’s venom all over him. He was outside the club with his two friends, trying to get home. I told them where they could get a cab.”

So he had found his friends. Seonghwa had been worried, after he’d let the human wade back into the club’s main room when he was still trying to shake off the effects of the venom. He’d already planned a sweep of the rooms before he left just to make sure some other, less respectable vampire hadn’t tried to take him back while he was still disoriented. 

“He looked fine,” said Yeosang. “Jongho obviously wasn’t violent. No harm done. Or did he hurt him?”

“He…” Seonghwa didn’t know what to say. Violent? The red-haired boy had been so small and delicate and human, and he hadn’t wanted to be fed from. How violent did Jongho have to be for it to be wrong? “The human wasn’t hurt,” he said finally.

“There,” said Yeosang, like that settled things.

Seonghwa couldn’t even argue. The conversation felt over.

“He won’t do it again,” he tried.

“I won’t,” said Jongho. He looked serious, and sincere. “I’ll always wait for a clear answer first, I promise.”

And Seonghwa wanted to believe him, wanted to believe Jongho’s maker hadn’t irreparably warped him, so he smiled and said, “Okay. Good.”

Jongho smiled back. 

“Okay, let’s head back to the house,” said Seonghwa. “Mingi’s probably feeling lonely by now, and you know how he gets.”

“Whiney,” said Wooyoung, rolling his eyes.

“Whiney,” agreed Seonghwa. “Let’s go.”

It was okay, he told himself. Everything was fine. Jongho wouldn’t do it again, and he hadn’t hurt the human. The boy with the bright red hair had found his friends and gotten home safely. He was okay. Everything was okay. 

It didn’t matter that he had looked at Seonghwa like he was horrible, or evil, or that Seonghwa would never have the chance to convince him he wasn’t. He would probably never see him again. 

And that was okay, he told himself, as he started the walk home. 

 

“Seonghwa, there’s a human here looking for one of your kids.”

Seonghwa opened his eyes. “They’re not my kids,” he said. “I don’t have any kids.”

“You know what I mean,” said Minhyuk, rolling his eyes. 

It was still early, hardly midnight, but Seonghwa could see from the shine in his eyes that the older vampire had already fed. Minhyuk was beautiful and personable, and very popular among humans at the club.

“What human?” asked Seonghwa, stretching on the couch. He was waiting for his turn to use one of the feeding rooms.

“I don’t know, just a human,” said Minhyuk with a shrug. “Red hair. Skinny.” He smiled toothily. “Smelled delicious.”

Seonghwa was off the couch in an instant. He could hear Minhyuk laughing as he left the room, but he didn’t care. The red-haired boy was back.

Was he alright? Was he looking for Jongho? Jongho wasn’t the type to make small talk before feeding but he might’ve mentioned his name. The human with the bright red hair might have something to say to him. Maybe he wanted to confront him. Seonghwa sincerely hoped not. Jongho was at home, and Seonghwa didn’t want to deal with an angry human.

He went out into the hallway lined with feeding rooms, and found it empty. All the rooms were marked occupied, except for the one at the end. Seonghwa took a moment to brace himself, and then walked in.

There was a young man sitting inside. Sharp features, hair dyed a dark red. Someone Seonghwa had never seen before.

Not him.

Seonghwa was relieved, and just the tiniest bit disappointed. 

“You’re not Wooyoung,” said the boy, frowning.

“No, Wooyoung’s not here tonight,” said Seonghwa. “You’re looking for him?”

“And no one else,” said the human pointedly. He didn’t want a bite from Seonghwa.

Seonghwa got the message clearly, and nodded. It was a shame, because Minhyuk had been right—the boy smelled good.

The human got up, and asked, “What nights does he come?”

“Whenever he feels like it,” said Seonghwa. “Usually a couple of times a week.”

“You know him?” asked the boy.

“I’m kind of his brother,” said Seonghwa. It was a nicer way of describing their relationship.

“Oh, that’s nice,” said the human, and he looked like he really meant it. His smile showed off a set of deep dimples. “Are you Yeosang?”

“No, my name is Seonghwa,” said Seonghwa, slightly taken aback. The boy knew Yeosang?

“Oh, Wooyoung only mentioned Yeosang,” said the human. “Sorry.”

“No, it’s alright,” said Seonghwa, smiling. He paused. “Are you the one who danced with Wooyoung two nights ago?”

The boy’s face lit up. “Yeah, that’s me! He talked about me?”

“He did,” said Seonghwa. “He said you were a great dancer.” 

“I am pretty good,” said the boy, with a small flourish. He laughed a laugh of genuine delight.

It didn’t seem like he was here only for a bite. Seonghwa hesitated, wondering if it would be awkward, and then went for it. “If you want,” he said, “you could give me your number, and I’ll pass it on to Wooyoung? Then he could call you the next time he comes to the club.”

“That sounds great,” said the human, almost bouncing with excitement. “Wow, thank you, Seonghwa-nim.”

“Seonghwa-ssi will be okay, thanks,” said Seonghwa with a slight chuckle. There was something about this kid that was so pure and likeable. 

He handed his phone over to the boy, who punched his number in. Seonghwa took it back when he was done, taking a glance at the newly saved contact name. 

“Okay, Sannie,” he said. “Are you going home now?”

“Yup,” said the boy, Sannie. “I only came to see Wooyoung.”

Cute. There were all sorts of problems with vampire-human relationships, but that was only if things got serious. Wooyoung didn’t do serious relationships. “Did you come with your friends?” asked Seonghwa.

Sannie laughed. “No way,” he said. “They’d kill me if they knew I came here again.”

“How are you gonna get home?” asked Seonghwa, moving out of the doorway so Sannie could walk out.

“Take a cab, I guess,” said the boy, shrugging.

“You’ll need to go to the end of the street,” said Seonghwa, frowning. He didn’t like the thought of the boy walking outside, alone, the sweet scent of his blood calling to those vampires that loitered outside the club.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” said Sannie. He put on a bright, reassuring smile.

Seonghwa was not reassured. “I’ll walk you,” he said.

“Ooh, how sweet! Are you trying to steal me away from Wooyoung?” asked Sannie, grinning mischievously.

“No, of course not,” said Seonghwa quickly, flustered.

Sannie laughed. “I know, I know,” he said. “Okay, let’s go.”

Eyes followed them as they made their way through the club, some curious, some leering. Seonghwa stayed close behind Sannie, not enough to invade his personal space but enough to send a message. This human was his.

If Sannie noticed, he didn’t comment. He seemed like a very chipper, sunny person, despite his sharp looks. Seonghwa found himself attracted to him. Not physically or romantically, but in a strange, sentimental way. The boy was like sunshine, and Seonghwa missed sunshine.

“Do you come here every night?” asked Sannie, once they’d stepped out of the busy club into the brisk night air outside. “How long do you stay?”

“Not every night,” said Seonghwa. He saw Kijoong in the alley nearby, and he frowned in distaste. He subtly led Sannie the opposite direction. “I stay as long as I need to. I only come when I—when I’m hungry.”

“You don’t like dancing?” asked Sannie.

“I don’t like clubs,” said Seonghwa.

Sannie paused, looking Seonghwa up and down. “Are you good at dancing? You don’t look like it.” He smiled mischievously.

“I’m good enough,” said Seonghwa with a laugh, half offended.

“Don’t believe you,” said Sannie.

“Come back to the club one night, and I’ll prove it to you,” said Seonghwa.

“That an invitation?” Sannie raised an eyebrow. “I’m there. Tell me whenever.”

Seonghwa laughed. “But you can’t compare me to Wooyoung,” he said. “Or yourself. He said you danced like a professional.”

A happy sparkle lit up Sannie’s eyes. “I’m not a professional,” he said, looking a little embarrassed. “He was exaggerating.”

“I don’t think so,” said Seonghwa.

Sannie didn’t say anything, just looked away and smiled to himself.

They’d reached the end of the street, where more stores were open and the air was busier. “If you call a car from here, they’ll show up,” said Seonghwa. “Or we can wait for a cab, drivers hang around here sometimes.”

“Why don’t cars wanna pick up in front of the club?” asked Sannie. “They have no problems dropping people off.”

It wasn’t his fault, but Seonghwa still felt embarrassed. “Drivers used to get ambushed sometimes,” he said. “So now they avoid the place.”

Sannie nodded, understanding. “If you’re busy, I can call a car,” he said. “But I don’t mind waiting for a cab, if you’ll wait with me.” He smiled.

Seonghwa blinked, surprised. He couldn’t remember the last time someone had genuinely, innocently, asked to spend time with him. Certainly not any of his ungrateful kids—

“I’d love to wait with you,” he said sincerely.

“Great,” said Sannie, showing off his dimples. He looked even sharper, more mature under the streetlights. “Do you live with Wooyoung? You’re his brother, right?”

“Kind of,” corrected Seonghwa. “Yeah, I live with him. Yeosang lives with us too, along with two others.”

“And you’re all siblings? That’s cool.”

“All brothers,” said Seonghwa. Being in a coven was not exactly like being siblings, especially when they didn’t have blood bonds, but it was a good enough analogy. 

“Even better,” said Sannie. “I live with two of my friends, and we’re pretty much brothers too. It’s great.”

“I hope your friends treat you better than mine treat me,” said Seonghwa. “I’m pretty sure they’re running a bet on who can get me to throw myself off the roof.”

Sannie laughed. “You’d be okay if you did, wouldn’t you?”

Seonghwa frowned. “That’s not the point.”

That made Sannie laugh again. Seonghwa was going to complain about Wooyoung and how he poked him when he tried to sleep, but spotted a cab approaching. He was about to point it out to Sannie, when the cab abruptly stopped right in front of them.

The door to the backseat flew open, and someone jumped out. 

Seonghwa stared in shock. It was him.

The boy with bright red hair.

“Hyung,” squeaked Sannie.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” demanded the boy. He was angry. Seonghwa could almost imagine the heat radiating off him.

“I—I just—” Sannie stuttered, and then fell silent, looking ashamed.

“You went back there? Alone?” yelled the other. “After—after—”

“After what?” asked Sannie in a small voice.

The red-haired human didn’t answer. He hadn’t told Sannie about Jongho.

“We’re going home,” he said, grabbing hold of Sannie’s arm. He turned to Seonghwa and glared daggers at him. “You got a problem with that?”

“No,” said Seonghwa awkwardly, feeling like an extra in a scene he was not supposed to be in.

“Good,” snapped the human. For such a small person, he had a lot of bite.

He opened the cab door and maneuvered Sannie in. Seonghwa got one look at Sannie’s miserable face and his mouthed ‘thank you’, and smiled sympathetically in return. Many humans didn’t trust vampires, and they had reason not to. Seonghwa didn’t begrudge the red-haired boy’s reaction.

He expected him to climb in after Sannie, but the other human hesitated and turned back to Seonghwa. “Did you drink his blood?” he asked sharply.

“No,” said Seonghwa, surprised by the directness of the question.

“Why did you bring him here?” asked the human.

“So that he could get a cab and go home,” said Seonghwa. He hesitated, and then added awkwardly, “No one at the club bit him.” 

The human watched him through narrowed eyes, but said nothing. He turned to get into the cab.

“Wait,” burst out Seonghwa, before he could stop himself.

To his surprise, the boy with the bright red hair stopped. “Yeah?”

Seonghwa stood there uselessly. He didn’t know why he’d asked the human to wait. What did he even want to talk to him about? He didn’t know him. They’d barely spoken to each other, and it was obvious the boy didn’t particularly like him. 

He really was pretty. Large, expressive eyes, pointed nose, pretty lips. Seonghwa had noticed the first time he’d seen him in the backroom, with his eyes glazed over and blank, dreamy expression on his face, but it was so much more obvious now, with the focus in his gaze as he looked right at him. 

“Are you okay?” Seonghwa asked finally, stupidly, because he couldn’t think of anything else to ask.

The human blinked at him. “I’m fine,” he said, with less acid in his voice than before.

“Okay, that’s good,” said Seonghwa. He shifted. “I’m sorry.”

The boy pursed his lips. Then he shook his head.

Seonghwa wanted to ask what he meant, but the red-haired human turned and climbed into the car without a second glance. The cab made a u-turn in the middle of the empty street, and left the direction it had come.

Seonghwa watched it go. He had a feeling he’d see Sannie again, and soon. The kid didn’t seem the type to be reined in so easy. Seonghwa would pass his number on to Wooyoung, because he’d said he would, but he felt a twinge of guilt when he thought of the red-haired boy. Which was stupid, because he didn’t even know the human, what did it matter—

Something crunched underfoot. Seonghwa raised his shoe, and saw something glint on the pavement.

He crouched down to pick it up, but stopped before his fingers touched it. He could feel the faint energy emanating from it, driving him away. His face twisted.

Silver.

It was a small circular charm, with a bent hook on one end. Half the flat circle was solid, the other just the outline. Silver was expensive, prices skyrocketing after it became known the metal repelled vampires. Even a charm that size could sell for a good amount.  

Seonghwa was already abandoning it to the pavement when he stopped mid-step. The charm could be his. He’d been wearing a bracelet, hadn’t he? Sannie hadn’t been wearing any jewelry apart from some earrings, and there had been no other people anywhere near. What if he wanted it back? Seonghwa couldn’t just leave it there. 

He turned back, decided against it and turned again, decided against that and turned back. He hovered on the spot, glancing around uncomfortably, and then finally sighed and gave up.

“They’re right, you are an idiot,” muttered Seonghwa to himself, getting down on one knee.

He picked the charm up in his handkerchief and carefully folded it around it. Then he put the handkerchief back in the inner pocket of his coat. 

He could feel the silver through the cotton and pocket, an uncomfortable lump against his chest. Seonghwa straightened, trying to ignore the itching, clawing feeling, and started walking back to the club.

Chapter Text

“Okay, what happened?”

“What happened with what?” asked Hongjoong, not taking his eyes off the chicken he was pushing around the pan. He could never get it cooked right.

“With you and San,” said Yunho. “What happened?”

“Nothing,” said Hongjoong.

“Don’t give me that,” said Yunho, leaning against the counter. “I know something happened. San looks super miserable, and you guys haven’t been talking to each other.”

Hongjoong said nothing, only took the pan off the heat. 

“Is it because he snuck out?” asked Yunho. “It’s not the first time, y’know. Besides, he’s not a kid, and you’re not his dad.”

“It’s not because he snuck out, it’s where he went to,” said Hongjoong. “He went back to that… that club. Alone.”

“Yeah, because he had a good time there,” said Yunho with a shrug. “He didn’t want to be babysat, you can’t blame him for that.”

“It was dangerous,” said Hongjoong, whirling on him. “Going there alone. Going there in the first place, actually, and he dragged both you and me into it. What if something happened there? What if someone overpowered him and—and—”

“You know those places are safe,” said Yunho.

“So they say,” said Hongjoong. The side of his neck tingled. 

A frown creased Yunho’s brow. “Did something happen, hyung?”

“No,” lied Hongjoong. “But it might’ve.”

Yunho didn’t say anything, but there was concern in his eyes as he backed out of the kitchen. Hongjoong ignored it. If he just pretended it didn’t happen, it didn’t happen, and he could go on living as normal.

There was no evidence after all. The fang marks had faded scarily quick, disappearing to nothing by morning. Hongjoong had stared at himself in his bathroom mirror, running his fingertips over the flawless skin of his neck in disbelief. Yunho and San hadn’t asked any more about where he’d gone when he was looking for San, and Hongjoong had been glad. He’d thought they could put it behind them.

And then San had gone back to that damned vampire club.

Hongjoong had no idea why. For the thrill of it? Because it was dangerous and he liked the danger? Or was he really looking for a vampire to bite him? To experience that floating bliss, that feeling that nothing else existed—

Hongjoong stopped that thought before he got too far. That drugged out feeling was the first thing he had to forget. 

It wasn’t the feeding that made Hongjoong shudder every time he thought of it. It was the venom. The sweet allure of the high that called to him, that blissful lightness that he could imagine even now. He’d never let himself become a venom addict, those listless, glass-eyed zombies who hung around clubs and in dark streets, hoping a vampire would feed from them, and he’d rather die than let San join their ranks. He just had to keep San from ever getting a taste of the drug.

San hadn’t been bitten the first night he’d gone to the club, if he was telling the truth. And he hadn’t been bitten the second night either, if that vampire was telling the truth.

That vampire. That same fucking vampire. What were the odds?

It was too much of a coincidence. The same vampire that had led Hongjoong out of the club’s back rooms had accompanied San to the street? There were a thousand vampires infesting that place, and of all of them San had found the exact same one?

Hongjoong stabbed at a tomato with a knife. The vampire had said he hadn’t fed from San, that no one had, and the weird thing was Hongjoong believed him. He believed the vampire. Hell, he believed him more than San’s repeated insistence on the cab ride home that he hadn’t been bitten. If any other vampire had said it Hongjoong would’ve laughed in disbelief and despair, but because it was this one—the one that had helped him—

He sighed aloud. He just wanted to stop thinking about vampires, was that too much to ask for?

Dinner was a two-person meal. San had the closing shift at the café, and wouldn’t be back until Hongjoong was already gone for his job at the convenience store. Yunho would probably sit with him as he ate, just as he sat with Hongjoong at breakfast.

They sat at the dining table, because their shoebox apartment didn’t have a lot but it did have a dining table, and like hell Hongjoong wasn’t going to use something they’d paid money for. They’d talked about moving before, but there never seemed to be enough money for that, and everything just got more and more expensive. So they stopped talking about moving, and focused on living. The living room was cramped, barely fitting more than the sofa and TV, but there was art on the walls, some collected, some painted by Hongjoong. Cute figurines San had bought sat on the old coffee table, and Yunho watered the potted plants religiously. It wasn’t the fanciest place, but it had become home.

They were halfway through dinner when Yunho said, “Hyung, you’d tell me if something was wrong, right?”

“Is this about the chicken?” asked Hongjoong, grinning. “I know it’s kinda dry, but I swear, it was literally raw a second before it became like this.”

But Yunho wasn’t smiling. “No, I mean like seriously,” he said. “You’ve been kinda… off.”

The smile dropped off Hongjoong’s face. “I’m fine,” he said. 

“I thought I was supposed to be your right-hand man,” said Yunho. “This is not how you treat your right-hand man. Come on, tell me.”

He looked so earnest Hongjoong almost spilled everything. But the words sounded so stupid, even in his own mind. A vampire bit me and now I’m paranoid me, San, and hell, even you, are gonna turn into addicts. Instead he asked, “Do you know anyone who’s been… bitten?”

Yunho looked at him blankly. “Bitten by what?”

Hongjoong burst out laughing. It was so unexpected, he couldn’t help it. “A vampire, idiot,” he said.

“How was I supposed to know you were talking about vampires?” said Yunho, about to throw his chopsticks at Hongjoong before he thought better of it. He hummed, thinking it over. “One of the guys in my class got ‘mugged’,” he said finally. “A couple of times, actually. He had to change his classes so he didn’t have to go out at night.”

“Whoa,” said Hongjoong. “So they were, like, targeting him? Why?”

“No idea,” said Yunho, shrugging. “Maybe he had really tasty blood? I’ve been out at night loads of times and never been bitten.” He frowned. “Do you think my blood is rank or something? I heard vampires can smell your blood like that. What if I stink to them?”

“Dude, I’m serious,” said Hongjoong, laughing as he gave Yunho a shove. 

“So am I,” said Yunho, in the most serious voice he could manage. “That club was full of vampires. Did they all plug their noses when I walked in?”

“Vampires don’t breathe,” said Hongjoong. “Everyone knows that.”

“Then how do they smell?” countered Yunho.

Hongjoong opened his mouth, and then closed it again. “I don’t know,” he said finally.

“They smell, so they breathe,” said Yunho, smug. 

“Okay, fine, whatever you say,” said Hongjoong. “Can we get back to what we were talking about?”

“What were we talking about?” asked Yunho, blank, before he suddenly remembered. “Oh, right. Yeah, Woong got bit loads of times. He doesn’t remember it, though. They always knock you out first.”

“Right,” said Hongjoong. He hesitated, and then asked, “So he doesn’t know what it’s like? The… drugged out feeling?”

“Nope,” said Yunho. “Which sucks. I mean, they drank his blood, they could at least give him a sweet high.” He raised an eyebrow at Hongjoong. “Why do you wanna know? You want that drugged out feeling?”

“No, of course not,” said Hongjoong quickly. “Just curious.”

“We could always go back to that club,” said Yunho innocently. “If you’re really curious.”

“No one’s going back to that club,” said Hongjoong, firm. “Now, do you want more chicken?”

“So I can die from dehydration? No thanks.”

Hongjoong laughed, exasperated, but feeling lighter than before.

 

✤✥✣✥✤

 

San put his chin on Yunho’s shoulder, looking at him with sparkling eyes. “Do you wanna go out?”

“Go out where?” asked Yunho, leaning back so his face stayed in focus.

“Out,” said San simply. “Outside the apartment. I’m bored.”

“Sure,” said Yunho with a shrug. “Where do you wanna go?”

“Here,” said San immediately, pulling out his phone. It was a screenshot of a map, red balloon marking a spot.

Yunho looked at it carefully. The spot was on the south west side, and they lived in an eastern neighborhood. It looked like a park. 

“Why?” he asked.

San chewed on his lower lip, hesitating. “Okay,” he said finally. “There’s a guy…”

Yunho groaned. Not a guy. San’s guys were the worst. Yunho hated all of them, and that was saying a lot, because Yunho generally liked everybody. San was just a shitty guy magnet. The last one had seemed almost okay, until he’d started trying to sleep with Hongjoong.

“No, he’s not like that,” said San quickly. “He’s really nice, and funny and cute, and he really likes me.”

“Okay,” said Yunho. He’d give the guy a chance. Yunho never put someone in his trash cabinet without giving them a chance. “Where’d you meet?”

San opened his mouth, closed it. “A club,” he said.

“What club?” asked Yunho slowly.

“A club,” repeated San. He looked one second away from exploding under pressure.

“Hongjoong-hyung is gonna kill you,” said Yunho.

“He doesn’t have to know,” said San, grabbing Yunho in a hug. “If no one tells him, he’ll never find out.”

“Are you crazy? Of course he’s gonna find out,” said Yunho, shaking free. “He finds out everything! He found out we went to that amusement park without him and blew all our money!”

“That’s because we got hyper and spilled,” said San. “We won’t this time. We’ve learned our lesson.”

Yunho groaned again. He didn’t even know why he was arguing. No one stood a chance against San’s persistence.

“We have to get back before Hongjoong-hyung,” he said.

San squealed and threw himself onto Yunho in a hug. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said, squeezing him. “We’ll get back before hyung, I promise.”

They got a taxi. On the way, San excitedly talked all about his new man. 

“His name’s Wooyoung,” he said. “He lives with his brothers in a place near the park. One of his brothers gave him my number, and we’ve been texting.”

“So that’s why you went back that night,” said Yunho.

“Yeah,” said San without hesitation. “I went looking for Wooyoung, but he wasn’t there. But Seonghwa-ssi was really nice and helped me out.”

Yunho listened to it all, and then came right out and asked, “Is he a vampire?”

“Seonghwa?” asked San, playing dumb.

“Him, and Wooyoung,” said Yunho. 

San didn’t say anything, and that was answer enough.

“Hongjoong-hyung is definitely gonna kill you,” said Yunho. “And he’s gonna kill me too for taking you.”

“He won’t know,” insisted San. “I’m not spilling. Are you gonna spill? No. Then we’re good.”

“So we’re just gonna hide it from him forever?” asked Yunho. “It’ll never work.”

“Not forever,” said San. “It’s not like I’m going to marry Wooyoung.” He laughed. “It’s just a fun little thing, nothing serious.”

“Good,” said Yunho. “I’m not covering your ass for years.”

San gasped dramatically. “After I covered your ass when you broke the coffee table.”

“That was an accident,” said Yunho. “You don’t accidentally start dating a vampire.”

“Let’s shush,” hissed San, with a pointed look at the cab driver. Yunho rolled his eyes and was silent for the rest of the ride.

They arrived at the park soon after. It wasn’t as empty as Yunho had expected, which was good. Couples wandered the area, some buying snacks from the carts that dotted the green, others walking down the narrow paths. It was a posh part of the city. Definitely more expensive than the crowded mess of buildings in Yunho’s neighborhood. 

He and San joined the wandering couples. Yunho had no idea what to expect. Some tall, skinny dude dressed in a black leather jacket with a face as white as paper and hair as black as coal. San didn’t really have a fixed type when it came to looks, so it was totally possible. 

San suddenly let out a happy shout, and rushed off the path and across the grass. Yunho changed course and followed.

There were two figures standing in the open space, lit by the golden light from the lamps lining the paths. Both were short, shorter than Yunho. One came forward and took San in a hug.

“You’re early,” Yunho heard San say as he reached them.

“Yeah, got up early,” said the other. He let go and spotted Yunho. “Hey.”

“Hey,” said Yunho. He inspected San’s new guy. He was good looking, with black hair and a nice smile, and he filled out the T-shirt and jeans he was wearing pretty well. He looked kind of familiar, like Yunho had caught a glimpse of him somewhere before. He didn’t look like a vampire. He just looked like a guy. “I’m Yunho,” he said.

“Wooyoung,” said the guy. “And that’s Yeosang. Yeosangie, this is San, and his friend Yunho.”

The figure behind Wooyoung raised a hand and said, in a bored but polite kind of way, “Hello.”

He was pretty. Crazy pretty. San and Hongjoong were kind of pretty too, but this guy was in a league of his own. He was also familiar.

“I think we met before,” said Yunho.

“Oh, yes,” said the other, Yeosang, with a start of surprise. He smiled. “Outside the club, right? How is your friend?”

Hongjoong-hyung? “He’s okay,” said Yunho, surprised. Why was Yeosang asking about Hongjoong?

“Glad to hear it,” said Yeosang. 

“How’s everyone?” asked San. He was attached to Wooyoung, plastered to his side, arm around his waist. Wooyoung looked like he didn’t mind at all.

“They’re okay,” said Wooyoung. “Seonghwa-hyung was asking about you. I didn’t tell him I was going to meet you tonight, otherwise he’d have tagged along for sure.”

San laughed. “Seonghwa-ssi likes me,” he said to Yunho.

“Seonghwa-ssi needs to get a love life of his own,” grumbled Wooyoung. He pressed his lips to San’s neck, and San giggled.

They looked comfortable. Comfortable enough to make Yunho uncomfortable. He looked away and ended up making eye contact with Yeosang. “So,” he said awkwardly. He was usually so good with new people, but Yeosang’s cool gaze threw him off. “You and Wooyoung are friends?”

“Brothers, in a way,” answered Yeosang. “The same vampire turned us both.”

Well that answered the question of if Yeosang was a vampire. “Cool,” said Yunho, because he couldn’t think of anything else to say. The conversation felt dead, but San and Wooyoung were now busy sucking each other’s faces, and Yunho had nowhere else to go.

Yeosang took pity on him. “We live in a big house, all of us together,” he said. “A… family, in a way. But Wooyoung and I are the only ones related by blood.”

“Oh, that’s neat,” said Yunho. “We live together too. Me, San and Hongjoong-hyung.”

“So that’s your red-haired friend’s name,” said Yeosang, a smile curling the ends of his lips. “The three of you should come back to the club one night. It could be fun.”

“Maybe one night,” said Yunho, knowing full well Hongjoong would rather swallow a gallon of bleach. He hesitated, and then asked, “You’ve, like, drunk blood before, right?”

“That’s how I’m still here,” said Yeosang. 

“Can you smell people’s blood?” asked Yunho. 

Yeosang raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

“Okay, me and Wooyoung are gonna go now,” said San, interrupting their conversation. “So… see you.”

“Hold up, you can’t just leave me,” said Yunho. What was he supposed to do while San was off being lovey dovey? Yeosang was already walking away.

“You can’t third wheel our date,” said San seriously. “I only brought you along so you could meet Wooyoung.”

“So I’m just supposed to go home?” Yunho stared at him. “Alone? Without you?”

“We’re both grownups,” said San.

“Calling yourself a grownup isn’t a grownup thing to do,” said Yeosang, apparently to himself.

“I’ll drop San off after, if you’re worried,” said Wooyoung helpfully.

Yunho didn’t know what to do. Wooyoung looked sincere, and besides, if he wanted to rip San’s throat out he wouldn’t have asked to meet in such a public place. San was so gone for him he would’ve agreed. But Yunho was supposed to be Hongjoong’s right-hand man, and letting San go off with a literal stranger didn’t seem like something Hongjoong would agree with.

But what could he do? Tag along with San and Wooyoung? Or, worse, call Hongjoong? San would just keep sneaking out, the only difference would be he’d start hiding it from Yunho too. 

“Make sure you get home soon,” he said finally, giving up. 

“I will,” said San, with a nod. “See you later, Yunho. Bye, Yeosang-ssi.”

He walked off with Wooyoung, leaving Yunho with Yeosang.

“I’ll be leaving,” said Yeosang, already walking away. “Bye.”

“Bye,” said Yunho uselessly. 

He hailed a cab to go home, possibly the same one he and San had come to the park in. As the car rumbled back towards their apartment, Yunho couldn’t help but wonder if the whole night had been a huge mistake. 

 

Yunho did end up regretting it, but not in the way he’d expected. 

San got home before Hongjoong, had a long, loud goodbye kiss with Wooyoung at the front door, and hugged Yunho again before heading to their room. Hongjoong got back some time later, completely oblivious to their outdoor adventure. He went to bed, and Yunho breathed a sigh of relief. Everything turned out okay.

Except San kept doing it.

He kept sneaking out at night to meet Wooyoung. The nights Hongjoong worked—which, considering how much he worked, was almost every night—San would shout Yunho a goodbye and head out. A few nights Yunho would come back from evening classes and find the apartment empty. One time San had even snuck out when Hongjoong was at home and they’d all gone to bed. Yunho was sick with nerves the entire time he was out. He’d been so close to breaking all the rules of bro-hood and telling Hongjoong, but San had come back, Yunho had tackled him to the ground, and everything worked itself out. 

One night, after a long evening class, Yunho trudged up to their apartment door. He had to work the next morning, and he was not looking forward to that, but at least he had a few hours to play Starfell before he slept. There was a new player on his usual server that Yunho liked hanging out with, and he hoped he was online. Hongjoong was working, and San was probably out with his boyfriend (Yunho hadn’t been invited to see him or his pretty brother again, and that suited him just fine) so Yunho unlocked the door and entered the empty apartment. 

Except it wasn’t empty.

“Holy shit,” said Yunho, clutching his chest. “You almost gave me a heart attack.”

“Hey, Yunho,” said Hongjoong. “Where’s San?”

Yunho opened his mouth, and closed it without a sound. Oh crap.

“I called him, and he didn’t pick up,” said Hongjoong. He didn’t sound worried, just angry, and tired. “And then I called him again, and it went to voicemail. Do you know where he is, Yunho?”

“No,” said Yunho, and that was the truth. He didn’t know where San was.

“Okay,” said Hongjoong. “Do you know who he’s with?”

Yunho cracked. “Okay he’s got a new boyfriend and he goes out to meet him sometimes,” he said, words coming out in a flood. “I don’t know where they go but he always comes back before it gets too late so… it seemed okay…”

“What? A boyfriend?” Hongjoong looked surprised. “Since when?”

“Like two weeks ago?” said Yunho. “I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you hyung, I thought it would be okay and San said it wasn’t serious and—” 

“Yunho, stop,” said Hongjoong. “You met this boyfriend?”

“Uh… yeah.”

“What’s he like?” asked Hongjoong.

He’s a freaking vampire. But Yunho wasn’t going to bring the wrath of Hongjoong on himself like that. San could tell him. “He seemed okay,” said Yunho. “Not sleazy. It seems like he really likes San? I don’t know. But he always brings San home.”

“Alright,” said Hongjoong, processing this information. “Okay. That’s good. Why was San sneaking out then? He could’ve just told me, it would’ve been easier.”

Yunho shrugged, trying to look casual. 

“I guess I’ll just have to ask him,” said Hongjoong. He settled into the sofa.

Yunho shifted uncomfortably. “I’ll just go then…”

“Sit down, Yunho.”

They didn’t have to wait long. Less than fifteen minutes later the lock clicked, and the door creaked open.

San looked guilty as all hell as he walked in, but not surprised. He obviously knew what he was coming home to. “Hyung, I’m so sorry,” he said, as soon as he made eye contact with Hongjoong. “I can explain.”

“Yunho already told me,” said Hongjoong. San glanced at Yunho, who tried to send a message with his look back. “You found a new guy,” continued Hongjoong. “That’s… fine. But why did you have to sneak out?”

“I didn’t want you to ask about him,” said San, shuffling his feet. “I knew you wouldn’t like him.”

“Why, what’s wrong with him?” asked Hongjoong.

Yunho closed his eyes, waiting for the bomb to drop. 

“He’s… unemployed.”

Yunho’s eyes shot open. He stared at San in disbelief.

Hongjoong didn’t notice. “That’s it? One of your boyfriends sold essential oils.”

“He’s kind of living off his brother’s money,” said San, while Yunho kept staring. “I knew you wouldn’t like it, and I didn’t wanna hear that. He’s a really great guy and I like him a lot.”

Hongjoong sat silent for some time, thinking it over. “I want to meet him,” he said finally. 

“Sure,” said San without hesitation, and Yunho almost had his second heart attack of the night.

Even Hongjoong looked surprised. “Okay,” he said. “When?”

“Wednesday night, since you don’t have work then,” said San. “You’re gonna like him as soon as you meet him, you’ll see.”

“I guess I will,” said Hongjoong. He sighed, and slid down the sofa’s backrest. “You can go change, I’ll take dinner out.”

San thanked Hongjoong and insisted he’d like Wooyoung, and then went off to their room. Yunho silently followed.

As soon as he’d shut the door behind him Yunho whirled to face San. “What was that?” 

“It was all the truth,” said San innocently. “Wooyoung doesn’t work, and the house is Seonghwa-hyung’s.”

“He doesn’t work because he’s a vampire,” hissed Yunho. “And you want Hongjoong-hyung to meet him?”

“Of course I don’t want Hongjoong-hyung to meet him,” said San. “But now I can’t refuse otherwise he’ll know something’s up.”

“He’ll know something’s up as soon as they meet,” said Yunho.  

“He won’t realize Wooyoung’s not human,” said San.

“Yes he will!”

“Really?” San fixed Yunho with a look. “When you met Wooyoung and Yeosang, could you tell?”

Yunho didn’t answer. He wouldn’t have been able to tell they were vampires if he hadn’t known. He’d met Yeosang before and he hadn’t been able to tell then.

“Exactly,” said San, satisfied by his silence. “It’ll be a super short meeting. Hyung sees Wooyoung, talks to him a minute. That’s enough.” He put his hands on Yunho’s shoulders and beamed at him. “It’s gonna be fine, you’ll see.”

“I really, really hope so,” said Yunho.

Chapter Text

“Hongjoong.”

Seonghwa didn’t look up from the model he was building. “Who’s that?”

There was a smile in Yeosang’s voice as he answered, “Your human.”

“What?” Seonghwa lowered the piece in his hand.

“I know about him,” said Yeosang, dropping into the easy chair beside Seonghwa. “I talked to Minhyuk-hyung, you know. He told me there’s a human you’re interested in. You even asked Jaehwan-nim about him?”

“Oh.” Seonghwa picked up the piece again, feigning disinterest. “He’s the one Jongho fed from. I just wanted to know if he came back. If he complains Jongho could get banned.”

“If you say so,” said Yeosang.

Seonghwa tried to focus on his model, but it was impossible now. “How do you know?” he asked finally, giving up.

“Did you know Wooyoung’s newest piece is friends with your human?” asked Yeosang. “I met him and his friend, and the friend told me.”

“Don’t talk about Sannie like that,” said Seonghwa, frowning.

Yeosang rolled his eyes. “That’s what he is, hyung,” he said. “He knows it too.”

“Still.”

“Fine,” said Yeosang. “Wooyoung’s newest lover is friends with your human. Did you know?”

“Yes, actually,” said Seonghwa. “And he’s not my human.”

“You did?” Yeosang looked surprised. “You could’ve asked him to set up a meeting then, instead of pining uselessly.”

“I am not pining,” said Seonghwa. He paused. “Also I don’t think he wants to see me.”

“So you’ll return to pining?” asked Yeosang. “That’s terrible, but it’s your choice.”

“I am not pining,” repeated Seonghwa, but his words had as much effect as the first time.

“There are so many humans who’d love to have you,” said Yeosang. He thought it over a moment, and then amended, “Or have you have them. Same thing. Why are you so hung up on this one?”

“The human part is not important,” said Seonghwa. “It’s not because he’s human.”

“Then?”

But Seonghwa had no answer to that. He went back to his model and tried to concentrate, while Yeosang sighed and picked up his tablet.

It wasn’t because he was human. If anything, Seonghwa wished he was a vampire. Then at least he wouldn’t have to see that look, that look that said all he thought of Seonghwa was a predator.

It was something in his gaze. The intensity in the human’s eyes caught Seonghwa’s attention. Even in the drowsy high of vampire venom it had been there, clouded over but still present. It was sharp, and strong, and impossible to ignore. There was a fire in the human that suited his vibrant red hair.

Hongjoong, Seonghwa corrected himself. Not ‘the human’. Hongjoong.

They sat in silence for some time, Yeosang reading, Seonghwa trying uselessly to get back to his model. It was a relief when the front door opened and Jongho walked in.

“Got Mingi’s blood,” he announced. “And something for you, Seonghwa-hyung.”

“A present?” Seonghwa stood up, excited.

“I guess, yeah,” said Jongho, holding out a plant in a clay pot. 

Seonghwa went up to him to take it, while Yeosang called Mingi to the living room. It looked fragile, two long stems skinny and bare, laden with beautiful purple orchids at the top. Seonghwa put his nose to the flowers. He could smell things, so long as they were alive, and the orchids had a sweet, delicate scent.

“Thank you,” he said.

Jongho shrugged, looking casual, but it was obvious he was pleased. It felt like an apology for his behavior at the club the week before, delivered in the usual Jongho style—every way that avoided talking about himself.

Mingi entered the living room, taking the bottle from Jongho with a quick thanks. He unscrewed it and was about to pour it straight down his throat when he saw Seonghwa’s look.

“Slowly,” said Seonghwa.

Mingi blinked at him, and tipped the bottle again, making eye contact the entire time. 

“Slowly, you buffoon,” said Yeosang. That was enough to make Mingi give up and go get a straw.

“How do you get him to do what you want?” asked Seonghwa, at a loss.

“I have my methods,” said Yeosang.

“Yeosang-hyung told Mingi-hyung he killed people before he met you,” said Jongho casually, while Yeosang went back to his reading. “And he’s not scared to do it again.”

Mingi came back before Seonghwa could respond to that. “Straws are killing the environment,” he said, sticking a straw into the open bottle. “I hope you know that. You’re making me kill the environment.” 

“Unmitigated manufacture and dumping of single-use plastics are killing the environment,” said Jongho like he was reciting something he’d seen in a documentary, which he probably was.

“Un-what?” asked Mingi blankly.

“Don’t worry about that,” said Jongho. He smiled. “Just enjoy your bottle. Baby.”

Mingi put the bottle down on the table carefully, and then threw himself at Jongho. In the next minute Jongho had him in a headlock.

“I give up, I give up,” said Mingi, struggling. “Let me go. You’re gonna pull my head off my shoulders, demon.”

“Say unmitigated manufacture and dumping of single-use plastics are killing the environment,” said Jongho, shaking him. “Say it.”

What?” 

Jongho shook Mingi by the neck threateningly.

“Unmitigated manufacture and dumping of single-use plastics are killing the environment,” recited Mingi, quick as lightning. “I said it, I said it! Happy now?”

Jongho released him, satisfied. Yeosang sighed, which meant he either missed Wooyoung or was extremely glad he wasn’t around to add to the noise. Seonghwa just smiled and went to put the flowerpot in the balcony. His coven was strange and rowdy, but it was nice to have a bit of noise in the big house. 

 

A few nights’ time brought someone new to the big house.

“Sannie,” said Seonghwa. “What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to see where Wooyoung lived,” said San, smiling brightly. “Your house is amazing.”

It was amazing, all things considered. It was situated in one of Seoul’s suburbs, and had an expansive front lawn as well as a big backyard. Seonghwa and Jongho tended both, and the grass was green and the flower beds vibrant with life. The house itself was a large two storey building, old enough to be considered vintage style, and had weathered the years well. Most of the furnishings were old but in good condition, and Seonghwa strictly followed a tasteful decorating theme. It was nice to have his hard work appreciated.

Seonghwa smiled back. “Thank you.”

“It’s horrible to clean,” said Wooyoung. “There’s dust literally everywhere.”

“I clean it anyway, so how’s that your problem?” said Seonghwa.

Wooyoung grinned cheekily. “It’s not.”

“That’s too much,” said San, elbowing Wooyoung in the stomach. “You should help out, you live here too.”

“We do help,” said Wooyoung, suddenly serious. “We take turns to help, it’s just Seonghwa-hyung does most of it.”

He came up behind San and put his hands on his waist. San gave him a suspicious look, but then relented and leaned into him. Their contact looked so natural, so comfortable, Seonghwa felt a twinge of envy.

“Yeosang-ssi, hi,” said San brightly.

Yeosang, who had just walked into the room, blinked in surprise. “Hello,” he said.

San smiled, and Yeosang returned it, though not as brightly. 

“Where’re the others?” asked San.

“Jongho is somewhere around here, Mingi’s in his room probably playing video games,” said Seonghwa. He raised his voice and called up the stairs, “Jongho! Come down, we’ve got a guest.”

“Mingi’s not coming to say hi?” asked San. 

“It’s better if he doesn’t,” said Seonghwa. “He’s not very good around humans.”

“He can’t control himself right,” said Wooyoung. “His maker was young and didn’t really know what she was doing, so he’s kinda… off.”

“He’s fine,” said Seonghwa, giving Wooyoung a sharp look. He smiled at San. “It’s just a precaution.”

At that moment Jongho came down the stairs, asking, “What smells good?” He stopped mid-step when he saw San.

“Hi,” said San. “I’m San.”

“Uh, hey,” said Jongho, much less confidently. “Jongho.”

“Great to meet you,” said San. “So what do you guys do for fun?”

They spent a couple of hours together, Seonghwa embarrassed he had nothing to serve their guest—they had no food in the house—until San had to go home. On the way out, he asked what game Mingi played.

“Oh, Yunho plays that game,” said San, after Jongho told him. “He’s always on the same server. I can text the code or whatever later?”

“Great,” said Jongho. “Mingi’s always looking for people to play with.”

“Okay,” said San with one of his sunny smiles. “I’ll see you guys later. Bye!” He left, Wooyoung going with him to drop him off home.

There was silence in the house after the two of them were gone. Seonghwa looked from Yeosang to Jongho and back again.

“I like him,” said Yeosang, and Seonghwa and Jongho both breathed sighs of relief. Yeosang’s approval meant no arguments, and Wooyoung would keep seeing San, probably bring him around again.

“I like him too,” yelled Mingi from upstairs.

 

Wooyoung and San’s relationship thrived. Any moment Wooyoung was not out with him he was on his phone, texting him. Yeosang was slowly getting exasperated with how much time Wooyoung spent on San—talking to San, talking about San—but he always got exasperated with Wooyoung’s ‘pieces’, as he called them, so it was a normal progression as far as Seonghwa was concerned.

What was not normal was Wooyoung receiving a text, opening it, and then screaming at the ceiling.

Seonghwa jumped, book almost falling out of his hands. Jongho swore, first in surprise, and then at Wooyoung for startling him. Yeosang came sprinting down the stairs.

“What the fuck happened?” he demanded. “Is Wooyoung okay?”

“I think he’s just being dramatic again,” said Jongho, as Wooyoung screamed into his hands. 

Yeosang gave Wooyoung a look that could’ve etched glass, and then went back up the stairs.

Seonghwa had already decided he wasn’t going to ask, so it was up to Jongho to put Wooyoung out of his misery. “What happened?” he asked. “Why are you screaming?”

Wooyoung collapsed on the sofa, limp. “San’s hyung wants to meet me,” he said.

“So what?” asked Jongho. “We met San. What’s the big deal?”

“The big deal is,” started Wooyoung, but that’s where he stopped. “I don’t know,” he said finally.

Jongho rolled his eyes. “Just meet the hyung, hyung,” he said. “It’s not like you’re promising to marry San.”

“I guess,” said Wooyoung. He suddenly grabbed Seonghwa. “You have to come with me.”

“Me? Why?” Seonghwa tried to extricate himself from Wooyoung’s grip. “Take Yeosang.”

“I wanna make a good impression,” said Wooyoung. “Not a I-want-to-murder-everyone-here impression.”

He made a good point. “What about Jongho?” tried Seonghwa. “People love him.”

“No thanks,” said Jongho cheerfully.

“No offense to him, but you’re the only one who can be around San without looking like you want to eat him,” said Wooyoung, completely serious.

Jongho shrugged, unoffended. “Your boyfriend’s a snack,” he said.

“He is,” agreed Wooyoung proudly. He tightened his grip on Seonghwa’s arm. “So?”

“Fine,” said Seonghwa with a sigh. “When?”

“Night after tomorrow,” said Wooyoung. “San said he’ll fix all the details and then let me know.” He smiled. “Thanks, hyung.”

Seonghwa smiled in return. “Of course,” he said. After all, what was the harm?

 

“Hurry up,” Seonghwa called up the stairs. “We’re going to be late.”

Wooyoung yelled something back, but it was impossible to tell what. He was in the bathroom and had been doing his makeup for well over an hour now. 

“You look pretty, I swear,” yelled Seonghwa. “Please come down now.”

More yelling back, but this time Seonghwa was pretty sure he heard some not very nice words.

“Stop fucking swearing in the fucking house,” said Yeosang, coming downstairs. He stopped when he saw Seonghwa. “You dressed up.”

“Yeah, thought I should make a good impression,” said Seonghwa, with a little twirl so Yeosang could see his outfit properly. There was supposed to be a chill in the air outside and while Seonghwa couldn’t sense temperature, he still dressed the part. Black slacks, white button up, a long coat with a gray and white checkered pattern and a red scarf to top off. Semi formal, put together.

“You look nice,” said Yeosang, genuine. 

Seonghwa smiled. Yeosang could be cold to people he didn’t know, but he wasn’t a bad person at all.

“So what do you know about the people you’re meeting?” asked Yeosang.

“It’s just San and his hyung,” said Seonghwa. “Wooyoung didn’t give many details and I didn’t want to make him nervous again so I didn’t ask.”

“Good thinking,” said Yeosang. He was smiling. Amused.

“What?” asked Seonghwa, nervous. The last time he’d seen Yeosang smile like that was just before Mingi walked into a sliding glass door. “What is it?”

“Nothing,” said Yeosang, still smiling that amused smile. “I hope your little meeting goes well.”

“Why wouldn’t it?” asked Seonghwa.

“I didn’t say it wouldn’t,” said Yeosang lightly. 

He wanted him to ask what he meant, but Seonghwa wouldn’t rise to the bait. They waited in silence for a few seconds, until Wooyoung came bounding down the stairs. “How do I look?” he asked. “Do I look good?”

He was in skinny jeans and a creamy white turtleneck, and wearing light makeup. He looked good, wholesome. Seonghwa looked him over approvingly, and nodded.

“Cream puff,” said Yeosang, voice flat.

Wooyoung broke into a huge smile, and then turned to Seonghwa. “Let’s go.”

They had agreed to meet in the little park near the house. It was after 8 pm and already dark, but there were still people wandering the grass. The two of them found a visible spot near one of the many golden-lit lamps, and waited.

Wooyoung obviously took this meeting seriously. Despite the fact that—if his previous relationships were any indication—his relationship with San was nearing the end of its natural lifetime, he was still very invested in impressing his hyung. He was bouncing on his heels, bubbling with nervous energy. 

“Don’t worry,” said Seonghwa soothingly. “It’ll be fine.”

“I hope so,” said Wooyoung. 

It seemed like San wasn’t leaving Wooyoung’s life any time soon, despite Yeosang’s quiet speculation. Remembering Yeosang and his little smile, Seonghwa asked, “What kind of person is San’s hyung?”

“Cool, but kind of strict,” said Wooyoung. 

“Strict?” Seonghwa frowned. “He’s his actual blood relative?” Now that he thought about it, Wooyoung hadn’t shared any details at all. Seonghwa knew nothing about the man they would be meeting aside from the fact that San called him hyung. 

“No, but they’re so close it doesn’t matter,” said Wooyoung.

“Like me and Jongho, Mingi, and Yeosang,” said Seonghwa, smiling.

Wooyoung gave him a sour look. “Yeah, sure.” 

“The four of us are so close we might as well be blood bonded,” said Seonghwa with a happy sigh. It was just so much fun to tease Wooyoung. 

“Oh, yeah, about that,” said Wooyoung. “Don’t bring up blood, blood drinking, immortality or any of that stuff.”

“He’s uncomfortable with the whole vampire thing?” asked Seonghwa. Most humans were. A lot of them pretended vampires didn’t exist, despite all the whispers. 

“Kinda,” said Wooyoung.

“Okay then, no mention of vampirism,” said Seonghwa. “Understood.”

“Basically don’t talk unless you’re asked something directly,” said Wooyoung. “Me and San will handle it.”

“So you brought me here as, what, decoration?”

“Just as my loving, supportive older brother,” said Wooyoung. 

Seonghwa raised an eyebrow. 

“A rich, fancy older brother,” explained Wooyoung.

“Making you rich and fancy as well,” said Seonghwa. “Understood.”

“I knew you would,” said Wooyoung, smiling brightly. He checked the time on his phone. “They should be here soon.”

They lapsed into silence as they waited, but something niggled at the back of Seonghwa’s mind. Finally, he couldn’t bear it anymore.

“Wooyoung,” he said carefully, “San’s hyung knows you’re a vampire, right?”

Wooyoung laughed, loud and high pitched and nervous, and checked the time again. “Wow, they really should be here by now,” he said. “I wonder why they’re late.”

Seonghwa grabbed him by the shoulders. “Wooyoung,” he said. “Tell me San’s hyung knows you’re a vampire.”

Wooyoung didn’t answer, only stared at a point slightly to the left of Seonghwa’s head, and that was answer enough.

“You cannot be serious,” groaned Seonghwa, letting him go.

“Look, he never has to find out,” said Wooyoung hurriedly. “This’ll literally be the only time he’ll ever see us. We just have to fool him this one time, and then we’re good.”

“We’re not good,” said Seonghwa. “This is very seriously not good.”

“Don’t say that,” said Wooyoung. He suddenly straightened. “Okay, that’s them. Look alive.”

Seonghwa was going to respond with a biting remark, when he spotted San. He was walking up the gentle slope, and beside him was another boy, smaller than him but keeping pace.

Red hair.

And that was the moment Seonghwa realized what an utter fool he’d been.

“Idiot,” he breathed aloud. That was the reason behind Yeosang’s little smile, the things he’d said to him. Seonghwa should have known. He should have known.

“What?” Wooyoung looked at him, tense, and then looked back at San and waved.

Seonghwa said nothing. It was too late.

He had made a mistake.

Chapter Text

“You’re gonna love him, hyung, I promise.”

“You said that before,” said Hongjoong.

“I meant it every time I said it,” said San.

Hongjoong laughed. He was still uncertain about the whole thing, but San’s enthusiasm was infectious.

They were in a car on the way to the chosen meeting spot. It was a park in Seoul’s rich south western suburbs, supposedly near where San’s boyfriend lived. If that was true, he was rich. Hongjoong had seen some of the houses there during his time as a deliveryman, and those were not houses regular people could afford.

They traveled in silence mostly. Hongjoong sincerely hoped this new boyfriend was at least decent. He knew he wouldn’t be able to stop San from seeing him no matter how much he disapproved, so all he could do was hope this guy wasn’t the type to disapprove of. 

The car stopped in front of the park a few minutes later, and they climbed out. There was a bit of a chill in the air. Hongjoong’s ears would be red enough to match his hair soon, and he regretted not wearing a beanie. San had bundled up. He looked even younger than he usually did, innocent.

“There they are,” said San brightly, pointing to two figures standing in the distance. 

One of the figures waved, and San enthusiastically waved back. Hongjoong didn’t. That would’ve been weird.

The way was up an easy slope, but they were off the path and on the grass, so Hongjoong focused on not tripping as he climbed it. Only as they reached the top did he get a good look at the two men waiting for them.

San bounded up to the shorter of the two, smiling. “Hyung, this is Wooyoung,” he said, turning to Hongjoong.

But Hongjoong wasn’t looking at him. His eyes were fixed on the other man, the one in the chic gray coat and red scarf, with hair darker than the night.

It was him. The vampire.

“San,” said Hongjoong quietly, wrenching his eyes away from the vampire. “Can I talk to you a moment?”

He and San stepped away from the other two to talk. Hongjoong didn’t know how good vampire hearing was, if they would be able to hear them regardless, but he had to try.

“What’s up, hyung?” asked San.

Hongjoong was ready with an excuse for them to return home, discuss the matter in privacy and safety and away from vampires, when he saw the look hidden in San’s eyes. All doubt left his mind. “You know,” he said quietly.

To his credit, San didn’t play dumb. “Yes,” he said in a small voice.

“Why?” asked Hongjoong. “Why him?”

“He’s really funny, and cute,” said San. “You’d like him if you gave him a chance.”

“He’s a vampire,” hissed Hongjoong. “He could kill you.”

“Anyone could kill me,” said San, looking Hongjoong in the eye. “That doesn’t mean I don’t go outside.”

Hongjoong had no reply to that, and San no longer looked guilty, he looked bold. “We’ll talk about this when we get home,” he said finally.

San smiled at that, and then walked right back to Wooyoung.

“This is Hongjoong-hyung,” he said. “Say hi.”

“Um, hi,” said Wooyoung. “I’m Wooyoung.”

Hongjoong bit down on the words on his tongue. He couldn’t leave now, not without looking suspicious, and he didn’t want to do that. 

“Kim Hongjoong,” he said.

“And this is Seonghwa-hyung,” said San, motioning to the other.

The other vampire. He looked as handsome as ever, dark hair combed away from his forehead, long coat suiting his frame. He had an attractive mouth. Hongjoong hated himself for noticing that, because now that he had his eyes kept going to it.

“Hello,” said the vampire. 

Seonghwa. That’s his name. “Hey,” said Hongjoong, affecting a casual tone. 

Seonghwa blinked at him, and then focused all his attention on San. It seemed he didn’t want to be here any more than Hongjoong did.

Which Hongjoong thought was unfair. He hadn’t been tricked into this meeting, Hongjoong had. He hadn’t gone into this expecting an awkward but regular meeting with regular people. The sight of the vampire’s face had thrown Hongjoong way offtrack. It took all his focus to even put on a normal front, and he wasn’t sure how well he was succeeding. 

“Okay,” said Wooyoung. “It’s great to finally meet you. Is there anything you want to ask me?” He looked awkward, and nervous.

He also looked familiar. Hongjoong peered at him a moment, and then recognition hit. He was the dark-haired stranger from the vampire club, the one San had gone off with. That was why San had gone back. For him.

“No,” said Hongjoong.

Wooyoung blinked. “No?”

“Actually, no, I do have a question,” said Hongjoong. He motioned to Seonghwa. “How are you two related?”

“Oh, we’re brothers,” said Wooyoung with a smile.

“You look nothing alike,” said Hongjoong.

There was an awkward silence. Wooyoung fumbled for an answer, while San glared at Hongjoong.

“I adopted him,” burst out Seonghwa.

Hongjoong raised his eyebrows. “What?”

“My maker had died, and so had his,” said Seonghwa. He looked only at Hongjoong as he spoke, ignoring Wooyoung’s desperate hand signals. “He had no money, and I had too much, so I took him and his brother in. And then two more later.”

“A big family,” said Hongjoong. He was surprised. He didn’t know what answer he’d expected, but it wasn’t this.

“Not really,” said Seonghwa. 

“Sorry about him,” said Wooyoung with an awkward laugh. “Hyung is—is a bit weird, he—fell on his head when he was a baby, he should probably get going—”

“Don’t bother,” said Seonghwa. “He knows.”

Wooyoung’s eyebrows rose. He opened his mouth, and then shut it soundlessly. It was kind of endearing.

“So, now that that’s out in the open, I do have questions,” said Hongjoong. “Did you ever drink San’s blood?”

Wooyoung shook his head. 

Hongjoong fixed him with a look. “Really?”

“Really,” said Wooyoung. “He never asked.”

He looked sincere. Did he have any reason to lie? “And the rest of your… family?” asked Hongjoong.

“No.” This time Seonghwa answered. “Not San. Never.”

Hongjoong glanced at him, and then looked back at Wooyoung.

“They really didn’t,” said San, exasperated. “Now can you stop interrogating them? They’re not criminals, they did nothing wrong.”

“How are you so rich?” Hongjoong asked Seonghwa.

“Inheritance,” he replied.

And that was that. There was nothing else Hongjoong could ask, or do. It was pointless. San was already standing beside Wooyoung, arm linked through his apparently subconsciously. He liked the vampire. He would keep seeing him, in whatever way he could. Hongjoong couldn’t ground him, or forbid him from dating him. 

He wished he could. He really, really did. He wished San was sixteen again, wholly dependent on him, and hated himself for the thought. San was an adult now, and Hongjoong had to treat him like one.

“Alright,” he said.

“Alright… what?” Wooyoung was confused.

“Alright, I met you,” said Hongjoong. “Don’t bring him home too late. He has things to do during the day, after all.”

Wooyoung looked like he had no idea what was going on. But San smiled, big and bright and satisfied, like things had worked out exactly like he had expected.

Murder is illegal, Hongjoong reminded himself, keeping his expression neutral in the face of San’s satisfied smile. He glanced at Wooyoung. But maybe murdering a vampire wasn’t? They were technically dead after all—

“Can I have a word with you alone?”

Seonghwa’s sudden question brought Hongjoong back to reality. A part of him wanted to refuse, but he found himself saying, “Yeah.”

They walked a few paces away from the other two, which was completely unnecessary. San and Wooyoung seemed unaware of everything outside the two of them.

When they were far enough, Seonghwa said, “I didn’t know it would be you. Coming here, I mean.”

“I thought so,” said Hongjoong. Seonghwa looked so sincere it was almost funny. “You kind of gave the scam away.”

“I didn’t know there was a scam,” said Seonghwa earnestly. “I didn’t know you didn’t know. About Wooyoung, I mean.”

“But you knew I knew San,” said Hongjoong.

“Yes, because we talked that night,” said Seonghwa. “I—actually, you…”

“Yeah?” prompted Hongjoong.

“Please wait here,” said Seonghwa.

And then he turned and ran away.

Hongjoong watched him go, dumbfounded. Someone started laughing a loud, high laugh, piercing in the night.

Shockingly, it was Wooyoung. “That’s, like, the first time I’ve ever seen Seonghwa-hyung run,” he said, still laughing.

“Oh, my god, hyung,” cried San. “What did you say to him?”

“I didn’t say anything,” said Hongjoong, bewildered. How was this his fault?

“He’s sensitive!” said San, while Wooyoung howled with laughter. “You’re too mean.”

“I wasn’t mean,” insisted Hongjoong. “He just said to wait, and then booked it.”

“He better come back,” said San sternly, and all of a sudden Hongjoong felt like the scolded child. It was jarring.

So they waited, but not for long. Only a few minutes later Seonghwa returned, still running. The sight of him set Wooyoung laughing again.

“Thank you for waiting,” said Seonghwa to Hongjoong. He wasn’t out of breath at all.

“Where did you go, hyung?” asked San.

“Just back to the house to get something, Sannie,” said Seonghwa. He looked at San so sweetly it struck Hongjoong. And then he was facing Hongjoong again, saying, “This is yours. You dropped it the last time we spoke, and I thought you would like it back.”

He held out a small cloth bundle in one hand. Curious, Hongjoong took it and opened it.

Inside was a charm, from a bracelet or chain. It was silver in color, and flat and circular—one half solid, the other only the outline. It was a little scratched, and the hook was bent and mangled, but otherwise it was in great condition.

“This isn’t mine,” said Hongjoong.

Seonghwa’s expression froze on his face. “Huh?”

“I’ve never owned anything like this,” said Hongjoong. “I’m sorry.”

“No, it—are you sure?” asked Seonghwa.

“Yeah, I’m sure,” said Hongjoong. The air felt awkward, and he shifted. “It looks expensive.”

“It’s silver,” said Seonghwa.

Which meant it was expensive. Hongjoong tried to hand it back to Seonghwa, but Seonghwa raised his hands and stepped backwards.

“You can keep it,” he said.

“I told you, it’s not mine,” said Hongjoong. 

“It is now,” said Seonghwa. “I have no use for it, and finding the original owner will be impossible so…” He smiled. “Please.”

Hongjoong found himself unable to refuse that weak smile. “Since you insist,” he said.

“I do,” said Seonghwa. He smiled, a much happier smile. “I’ve been worried one of the kids would find it. It’s better with—with you.”

Hongjoong didn’t know what to say. “Thank you,” he said, but it didn’t feel right.

Seonghwa’s smile widened, pretty mouth carrying it well.

“Okay,” said Hongjoong, suddenly feeling the need to look at anyone but Seonghwa. “San, let’s go.”

“What? Go where?” asked San.

“Home,” said Hongjoong. 

“Already?” San pouted. He was still attached to Wooyoung, hands and arms linked.

“Yeah, already,” said Hongjoong. “You can go on your date some other night.”

San grumbled, but began separating from Wooyoung. It looked like it would take a while.

“Where do you live?” asked Seonghwa. “I could take you.”

Before Hongjoong could politely refuse, San said, “Thanks, hyung!” and began reciting their address.

And so they ended up getting a ride home from a vampire. It was a nice car, vintage American kept in perfect condition. The outside was a shiny black, the interior caramel brown.

San sat in the backseat. Wooyoung joined him, saying he wanted to see him home. Hongjoong didn’t want an up-close look at the two of them together, and sat in the front passenger seat. 

Beside Seonghwa. He was a good, steady driver, keeping his eyes on the road and only smiling slightly at the whispered words and giggles from the backseat.

“Thank you,” said Hongjoong, feeling like he ought to say something. “For going out of your way to drive us.”

“It’s no trouble,” said Seonghwa, with a brief glance. “It’s why I brought the car, actually. Our house is in walking distance from the park.”

“Yeah, you proved that when you ran there and back,” said Hongjoong without thinking.

Seonghwa sputtered. It was a very un-vampire thing to do. “I didn’t want you to wait,” he said.

“You didn’t have to run,” said Hongjoong. A smile was ready to break on his face, and he forced it away.

They drove in silence for some time. San and Wooyoung were still busy in the back, and Hongjoong fought the urge to monitor them in the rearview mirror.

So he looked at Seonghwa. He had a handsome side profile, with his strong nose and dark hair combed back. A classy silver colored watch showed on his wrist as he steered the car with a relaxed hand. He looked chic. Expensive. 

Looking at him, Hongjoong wasn’t surprised they were different species. It felt like they shouldn’t even be on the same planet.

Hongjoong and San’s apartment building was just like a thousand others, in a part of the city where all the buildings were packed together like so many gray blocks. The car rolled to a stop in front of it, and San and Wooyoung climbed out first, probably to get a moment unaccompanied. Hongjoong moved to follow them.

“Hongjoong-ssi, wait,” said Seonghwa.

Hongjoong stopped. “Yeah?”

“My handkerchief,” said Seonghwa. He looked awkward. “You have it. I had it wrapped around y—the charm. Can I have it back?”

“Shit, right,” said Hongjoong. “Sorry, I totally forgot.” He pulled it out of his jacket pocket, shook the silver charm out of its folds, and then held the white cloth out. 

Seonghwa took it from him, and as he did, his fingers brushed against Hongjoong’s.

The vampire started, and then hurriedly looked away. He made himself busy folding the handkerchief.

Hongjoong just stared. He knew he should say something, but he didn’t know what. He muttered a quick goodbye and climbed out of the car. Seonghwa didn’t stop him this time.

The air outside was refreshingly cool. San and Wooyoung had finished their goodbyes, thankfully. Wooyoung awkwardly said bye to Hongjoong as he returned to the car, an uncertain half bow to accompany the words. Hongjoong only tilted his head in return.

“Bye hyung!” said San, waving cheerfully to Seonghwa. 

Seonghwa probably waved back. Hongjoong didn’t know. He resolutely avoided looking at him.

And then the car was driving away, taking the two vampires with it.

As soon as it was out of sight, San jumped on Hongjoong in a hug. “Thank you, thank you, hyung,” he said. He leaned back to beam at him. 

“Don’t think you’re getting out of this so easy,” said Hongjoong, grabbing San by the arm. “Come on. Upstairs.”

The living room was empty when they entered the apartment, which meant Yunho was probably busy playing games in his room. That was fine. Hongjoong would deal with him later. 

San sat on the couch, knees together, hands in his lap. Hongjoong stood before him. He wasn’t that much taller, even with San sitting down, but Hongjoong knew how to cut an imposing figure. San was already nervous.

Hongjoong took a deep breath. “Well?”

“I’m sorry,” said San, voice small.

It was horrible of him, but Hongjoong felt more at ease now. This was regular, this was his life. San getting in trouble, Hongjoong setting him straight. Not a handsome vampire giving him jewelry, or getting flustered when their fingers accidentally touched—

He forced the thought out of his head. “You lied to me,” he said.

“I didn’t,” insisted San. “I didn’t say anything untrue—”

“You hid the truth from me,” said Hongjoong. “Jesus, San, what did you think was gonna happen?”

“I didn’t think you’d realize,” said San.

“They’re fucking vampires,” said Hongjoong, voice rising of its own accord. “How was I not supposed to realize?”

“I don’t know, they look so normal,” murmured San.

Normal? San thought Seonghwa looked normal? “You have no idea how angry I am right now,” said Hongjoong. “Not only did you go back to that—that den, you went and picked up a vampire. A vampire, San. And you’ve been spending time with him alone?”

“He never bit me or hurt me in any way, hyung,” said San. He frowned. “You were okay with me dating him. You said I could go out with him if I came back early.”

“Of course I said that,” said Hongjoong, exasperated. “We were standing in front of two vampires, what the hell was I supposed to say?”

“He’s really sweet and funny,” said San. “I don’t know why you’re so against me dating him.”

“Because he’s a vampire!” Hongjoong didn’t understand, what part of this was San not getting? “Because when he looks at you he doesn’t see you, he sees food. And one day he might decide he’s hungry.”

“You don’t know that,” said San defiantly. “Wooyoung’s not like that, and neither are any of the others I met.”

“The others you…” Hongjoong tried another deep, calming breath. It didn’t work. “How many vampires have you met?”

“Just Wooyoung’s brothers,” said San.

“You’ve been inside their house,” said Hongjoong flatly. It wasn’t a question.

San squirmed. “Maybe…”

“You went to a house filled with fucking vampires, alone?” Hongjoong was yelling again, and San shrunk back. “You didn’t stop to think for one moment what would happen if they decided to pounce on you—”

“They didn’t pounce on me, oh my god—”

“They could’ve!”

“But they didn’t,” said San. “They were really nice to me. You talked to Seonghwa-hyung, isn’t he a nice person?”

Hongjoong couldn’t respond. He found himself literally unable to force any words out of his mouth. Why was San bringing up Seonghwa? “This isn’t about him,” he said finally. 

“What, so only Wooyoung is some sort of bloodthirsty monster?” demanded San.

“Of course not,” said Hongjoong. “The point is I—we don’t know him. Or Wooyoung, or any of his ‘brothers’. All we really know about them is that they’re vampires. They literally—” He stopped, turned to the door leading to San and Yunho’s room. 

“What?” asked San.

“Yunho, get in here,” said Hongjoong.

For a few seconds nothing happened. And then Yunho slunk out of his hiding spot behind the half-open door. “Hi hyung,” he said sheepishly. “Didn’t hear you come in.”

“Sit down,” said Hongjoong. He was not in the mood.

Yunho sat down next to San, mirroring his posture. They looked like two schoolboys in front of the principal, one dripping regret, the other more defiant.

“You knew about San’s boyfriend,” said Hongjoong flatly. “You didn’t tell me.”

“I’m sorry,” burst out Yunho. In so many ways it was easier dealing with him than with San. “I couldn’t just rat him out like that.”

“This went beyond loyalty,” said Hongjoong. “San was out with a vampire and you hid it from me.”

Yunho muttered something under his breath.

“What was that?” said Hongjoong sharply, and Yunho started. “I want to know what you said. Repeat.”

Yunho looked like he’d rather throw himself out the window.

“He said you wouldn’t have been able to stop me anyway,” said San boldly. “And he’s right.”

Hongjoong looked at him, and San’s boldness wilted under his gaze. “Say that again,” he said quietly.

Silence. San wouldn’t even make eye contact.

If Hongjoong told him to never see Wooyoung again, San might nod and accept it. But he wouldn’t obey. Not for more than a night or two, if even that. It wasn’t like San to let go of things he liked. And he liked Wooyoung.

It was a losing battle, and Hongjoong had known it from the beginning. 

He felt a little overwhelmed, in truth. The night had been a rollercoaster, throwing him in directions he hadn’t expected, and it felt like only the beginning. 

“You won’t go to his house,” said Hongjoong. “Or to that vampire den. Or any vampire den at all.”

San looked up, confused. He glanced at Yunho, who seemed even more lost.

“You tell me where you’re going and for how long,” continued Hongjoong. That was too much to hope for, he knew, but he had to try. “Only public places. And you’re not allowed to stay out the entire night. You need to sleep.”

“Are you… are you saying yes?” San’s eyes lit up, and he jumped up. “Hyung, thank you, thank you—”

“Don’t thank me,” said Hongjoong, raising a hand before San could hug him. “I’m not happy. You’re dating a vampire, and you’re going to regret it. I’m letting you find that out for yourself.” 

He just had to wait it out, Hongjoong told himself. Wait until San got bored of this boyfriend as he had all the others. The shine of having a vampire boyfriend would fade eventually, it had to. If San followed the rules Hongjoong had set he would be safe, and that was all Hongjoong needed.

San was bubbling with happiness. He ignored Hongjoong’s hard tone and hugged him, saying, “You’re the best. Thank you.”

Hongjoong exhaled. He caught Yunho’s eye. Yunho hurriedly looked away, still expecting a scolding.

“Okay, that’s enough,” said Hongjoong, extricating himself. “You can go. Both of you.”

Yunho jumped up, ready to flee. San, happy and shining like the midday sun again, smiled and nodded. He was about to leave when he stopped and said, “Wait, hyung, I wanted to ask you something.”

“Sure,” said Hongjoong. He was exhausted, and he wanted the night to end. 

“What did you and Seonghwa-hyung talk about?” asked San.

His words hit Hongjoong like a baseball bat to the head. The question was so unexpected it left Hongjoong gaping like a dead fish, unable to come up with an answer. Just when he’d been getting used to normal life, San had to come out with that innocent question.

“Who’s Seonghwa?” asked Yunho.

“One of Wooyoung’s brothers,” explained San. “Hyung?”

“It—nothing,” said Hongjoong, disoriented. “Nothing. Just about the night I got you from the den.” In his pocket the charm felt as heavy as a boulder.

San blushed red, obviously embarrassed by the memory, and stalked off to his room. Yunho followed, looking relieved to have escaped relatively unscathed.

Hongjoong watched them go, feeling more tired than ever. Then he went to his room.

It was in a mess, just like he’d left it. He barely noticed as he made his way to the bed and dropped down onto it. Carefully, almost hesitantly, Hongjoong reached into his pocket and took out the charm.

It was simple, and beautiful. In the dim light that floated in through the window it glinted dully, the silver faintly glowing. Hongjoong looked at it, and thought of the moon.

He turned it over in his fingers, once, twice, and then put it down on his dresser. 

Chapter Text

The smell of humanity pervaded the air. Fruity alcoholic drinks lent a sickly sweet undertone, making the atmosphere even heavier, almost sticky against the skin, adding to the sweat and breath of the humans. And there were many humans. Some hung around the bar, but most danced. The music was loud in the room, something with a heavy, hard beat, something to get lost to.

Hongjoong didn’t know what he was doing here again.

He stood by the doors, debating going home. It was late and he had come here, to a club filled with vampires of all places, alone. He could just turn around and go home. No one would know. Neither San nor Yunho were home, Yunho at his dance class, San out with his boyfriend.

Anxiety bubbled in Hongjoong’s gut. What if San and Wooyoung were here? He’d told San not to come here again, but San had never been very good at listening. What if they saw him? How could he explain what he was doing here?

What am I doing here?

It just hadn’t sat right with Hongjoong.

Seonghwa had run all the way to his house and back for that charm, thinking it was Hongjoong’s. But it wasn’t Hongjoong’s. Sure, Seonghwa had insisted he take it, but Hongjoong didn’t deserve it. It was silver, and silver was damn expensive. Money was obviously not an issue for Seonghwa, but he had kept that charm safe for weeks, so he must have had some attachment to it. Hongjoong had put it on his dresser, and then in the drawer he kept his jewelry in, but no matter where it was it made him uneasy. 

So he put it in an old ring box, slid the box in the inner pocket of his favorite green bomber jacket, and came here.

Back to the vampire club he had told himself he would never enter again. So that he could return jewelry to a vampire.

Hongjoong wasn’t sure he hadn’t fallen into an alternate reality.

The solid lump in his jacket encouraged him. He patted it, because he needed it, and waded into the crowd.

It wasn’t easy navigating the sea of bodies, but Hongjoong managed to reach the other side of the room. He recognized the inconspicuous door he had gone through in his search for San, and felt unease coil in his stomach. The last time he had gone in there he had been attacked by an unknown vampire.

But he didn’t know how else he would find Seonghwa, so Hongjoong walked in. 

The hallway beyond was dark, but not empty. A girl had just left a room—the door was still open behind her. She smiled at Hongjoong sheepishly, but he wasn’t interested in her. He slid in through the door behind her.

There was a woman inside the dimly lit room beyond. She had bleached blonde hair, and was casually dressed. “Sorry, I’m not taking any more right now,” she said.

“I’m looking for someone,” said Hongjoong. “His name’s Seonghwa.”

She rolled her eyes. “You small, pretty ones are always looking for Seonghwa,” she said, getting up. “I swear, he’s like catnip for you guys. Lemme go see if he’s free. Sit tight, sugar.”

“Tell him Hongjoong came to see him,” said Hongjoong as she walked past him.

The woman chuckled. “Sure,” she said, like she thought it was funny Hongjoong thought his identity was important.

And then she was gone, and Hongjoong was alone in the room.

He sat, hands folded in his lap. He felt awkward, but more than that he felt nervous. What if the blonde woman was right? What if Hongjoong was just one of a thousand small, pretty men to Seonghwa?

“What does it matter?” he said aloud. “You just wanna give him his charm back.”

The door clicked open, and Hongjoong started. He rose.

It was Seonghwa. He looked surprised, and stood a few moments in the doorway, blinking. “Hongjoong-ssi,” he said finally, walking in and letting the door shut behind him. “It is you.”

Hongjoong chuckled awkwardly. “It is.”

“What are you doing here?” asked Seonghwa. Concern fell over his features. “Is it Sannie? Did something happen?”

“No, San’s fine,” said Hongjoong quickly. Seonghwa looked like he was ready to have a heart attack, or whatever the vampire equivalent of a heart attack was. “I just wanted to see you.”

“Oh.” Seonghwa let out an unmistakable sigh of relief, and was calm and collected again. “Why did you want to see me?”

“This is yours,” said Hongjoong, reaching inside his jacket for the ring box. It felt small but heavy in his hand, and he almost dropped it before he held it out.

Seonghwa looked at Hongjoong, down at the ring box, and then back up at Hongjoong’s face. “What?” He looked totally perplexed.

“This is for you,” said Hongjoong, giving the box a light shake. “Please take it.”

Seonghwa took it uncertainly. He cracked the box open, and flinched. And then he frowned at the charm inside, and raised his head to frown at Hongjoong.

“I told you, it’s yours now,” he said. 

“But it’s really not,” said Hongjoong. He didn’t know why, but he felt nervous. “It’s really nice of you, but I can’t take it. Thank you and I’m sorry. Please keep it, you found it so it’s yours.”

“Hongjoong-ssi,” said Seonghwa. “I can’t keep this, it’s silver.”

“Yeah, I know, it’s really expensive,” said Hongjoong. He was blabbering and he knew it, but he couldn’t stop. “Which is another reason I can’t just take it. I mean, I’m not gonna lie, I’m not super rich. But you are, so you can just have it lying around, no problem—”

“I’m a vampire,” said Seonghwa.

“Yeah, I know that too—”

“No, listen,” said Seonghwa patiently. “I’m a vampire. This is silver. I can’t keep this.”

Hongjoong blinked at him. And then it clicked.

“Holy shit, I’m so sorry,” he said, the words rushing out of him like a burst dam. “I totally forgot, I’m so stupid, oh fuck I’m stupid—”

Seonghwa laughed. “It’s okay, you just forgot,” he said.

If the Earth decided to swallow Hongjoong whole he would’ve thanked it. Seonghwa had literally flinched when he had opened the box, and Hongjoong still hadn’t realized—

“Really, it’s fine,” said Seonghwa with a chuckle. He stepped forward as if to put a hand on Hongjoong’s shoulder, but then thought better of it. “But I hope you understand now why I really wanted you to have this,” he said. “If you don’t take it I’ll literally throw it away, and I don’t want to do that.”

He held up the box. Hesitantly, Hongjoong took it back, taking care not to touch Seonghwa as he did.

“You could just sell it,” he said. I could just sell it.

“I don’t need any more money,” said Seonghwa. “Is there anything else you wanted to see me about?”

“No,” said Hongjoong, tucking the box back in his jacket pocket.

“You sound disappointed.” The smile tinted Seonghwa’s voice.

“Well, yeah,” said Hongjoong, and he found himself smiling too. “I came all the way out here for nothing.”

“It doesn’t have to be for nothing,” said Seonghwa. “This place has a pretty nice bar, I’ve heard.”

If Hongjoong didn’t know any better, he’d think Seonghwa was offering to buy him a drink. “I’ll just go home,” he said.

“Okay then,” said Seonghwa. “Who are you here with? Sannie, or another friend?”

“I came alone,” said Hongjoong.

Seonghwa blinked at him a moment. “I’ll walk you to the end of the street,” he said. 

If the last time was an offer, this was a statement. Hongjoong just shrugged. Seonghwa moved away from the door to let him exit, and then followed him out.

The blue of the hallway was a welcome change from the dim light inside the room. Seonghwa came up to walk beside Hongjoong, and Hongjoong snuck a glance at him without thinking.

Hongjoong didn’t think he was a hypocrite for finding Seonghwa attractive. It wasn’t an opinion, it was pretty much a fact. Seonghwa was attractive. He was handsome, and rich, and polite and well-spoken and considerate. 

If only he wasn’t him. A vampire, brother to San’s vampire boyfriend. Of course, Hongjoong thought, remembering Seonghwa’s house in the posh suburbs and his car and his fancy watch, their paths probably wouldn’t have crossed if he wasn’t. 

Unless Hongjoong was there to deliver some package or something. He could almost imagine it now, him in that stupid red and orange uniform, Seonghwa dressed just like he was, with his light dress shirt and tight jeans—

“Hello?”

Hongjoong started. “Huh?” he said, so intelligently.

Seonghwa was smiling at him. “You were spaced out,” he said. 

“Yeah, I do that sometimes,” said Hongjoong, with an awkward little laugh. Seonghwa smiled even more at that, and Hongjoong’s attention went to his mouth with full focus. No, bad Hongjoong, he scolded himself, but his brain was stubborn.

He and Seonghwa stepped into the main room, where people danced without a care. Hongjoong half-expected the crowd to part like a sea in front of Seonghwa, but that didn’t happen, and they had to navigate the bodies by themselves. No one even noticed them.

Almost no one. Hongjoong felt eyes on him, and found a man watching him. There was a glint of hunger in the man’s eyes. The shamelessness of it sent a chill over Hongjoong’s skin. 

A hand came to rest on Hongjoong’s upper arm.

He turned to Seonghwa, surprised. Seonghwa said something, but his voice was low and the words got lost in the music. He kept his hand on Hongjoong, his arm going around his back.  

Hongjoong glanced back at the man who had been watching him. He wasn’t watching anymore.

The air outside the club was blessedly cool. Hongjoong inhaled deeply, grateful for it after the crowded heat of the dance floor.

“Sorry about that,” said Seonghwa. “There was a vampire tracking you. I just wanted to make it clear you weren’t looking for a bite from him.”

“Thanks,” said Hongjoong. “I saw him too.”

“You just being with me should’ve been enough for him to get the hint,” said Seonghwa. He started walking, the opposite direction of the way Hongjoong had gone the last time he’d come here. Hongjoong went with him without protest. 

“I thought these places were safe,” he said. “What would the guy have done if you hadn’t—hadn’t—?” Staked your claim were the words on Hongjoong’s tongue, but he managed to shut himself up before they came out.

“Bothered you a few minutes, maybe,” said Seonghwa. “You won’t find anyone inside the club who’ll force you—the owners are very careful.”

Hongjoong thought about the vampire who had pinned him down and fed from him, and said nothing.

“On second thought,” said Seonghwa as they walked down the empty street, “I didn’t need to do that. He would’ve backed off if I just talked to him. Sorry.”

“It’s fine, you did what you thought was right,” said Hongjoong. He paused. “You apologize a lot.”

“Too much?” Seonghwa chuckled sheepishly.

“You don’t need to say sorry for everything,” said Hongjoong. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

It was obvious Seonghwa didn’t feel the same. Hongjoong watched him frown and worry his lower lip in silence for some time, and then he finally cracked.

“Okay, tell me,” he said, stopping. “What bad thing did you ever do to me?”

“Huh?” Seonghwa looked lost.

“Let me help you out with that,” said Hongjoong. “You didn’t do a single bad thing, not to me. So don’t feel guilty or apologetic or any of that.”

Seonghwa shifted awkwardly. “I’m sorry, I can’t help it,” he said. “I just—I keep thinking about the first time we met, I should’ve been—I mean, you were—and I should’ve…” He trailed off, leaving the sentence hanging.

“That wasn’t your fault,” said Hongjoong. “Do not feel guilty over that. It was just one fucking bite, anyway. Come on.”

He started walking again, and a moment later Seonghwa did the same. They walked in silence for some time, until Seonghwa quietly asked, “So you’re really okay?” 

“I’m really okay,” said Hongjoong firmly. “It’s no big deal.”

“You never told Sannie about it.”

Hongjoong opened his mouth, and then shut it. “I didn’t want him to worry,” he said finally.

Seonghwa nodded, and that conversation ended. 

By this time they had reached busier streets. There was an empty cab on the opposite side of the street, driver leaning against the door having a smoke. Now was the time for a brief, polite goodbye.

“Thank you for coming,” said Seonghwa. “And I’m—it’s unfortunate you couldn’t do what you came here for.”

He’d stopped himself before the apology, and it made Hongjoong smile. “Thanks again, I guess, for this,” he said, patting the pocket the ring box was in. “I guess I kinda owe you one.”

“You don’t owe me anything,” said Seonghwa earnestly.

It’s a gift. Hongjoong could see the words right there on Seonghwa’s mouth, but thankfully he didn’t say them. Hongjoong smiled tightly. “Sure,” he said. “I’ll see you around.”

“Wait,” said Seonghwa, before Hongjoong could step off the kerb. He hesitated. “Actually, I do have something I need help with.”

That surprised Hongjoong. “What is it?” he asked.

“I need something from a place I can’t enter,” said Seonghwa carefully. “I was hoping you could get it for me.”

Hongjoong narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “Something like a cursed something?”

Seonghwa burst out laughing. This wasn’t one of his polite laughs or quiet chuckles, this was a real, genuine laugh, full-bodied and rich and warm. “No, not like a cursed something,” he said. “Where would I get a cursed something?”

“You can’t get it, that’s why you need me,” said Hongjoong. He was flushed with embarrassment, and wondered if Seonghwa could see it under the ugly light of the streetlights.

“It’s not cursed, don’t worry,” said Seonghwa, still grinning. “It’s completely fine for you. It’s just a little… uncomfortable for me.”

“Okay,” said Hongjoong. “Where is it?” 

“Is that a yes?” asked Seonghwa.

Hongjoong had a feeling he should refuse, that he was standing on the edge of a cliff he wouldn’t be able to climb back up, but it was too late. His curiosity was piqued, and Seonghwa was looking at him expectantly. “Yeah, it’s a yes,” he said.

“Great,” said Seonghwa, breaking into a huge smile. It looked good on his mouth. “I’ll pick you up tomorrow night.”

“Whoa, you didn’t even tell me where we’re going,” said Hongjoong, laughing.

“Somewhere,” said Seonghwa, smile playing on his lips. “Inside Seoul, and it won’t take more than an hour. So tomorrow night?”

“I have work,” said Hongjoong.

“Then whatever time works for you,” said Seonghwa at once. “I’ll—I’ll give you my number and you can call me with all the details?”

Another cliff, another step forward. “Okay,” said Hongjoong, without hesitation. He took out his phone and handed it to Seonghwa, who entered the digits.

“Thank you,” said Seonghwa, giving the phone back. Hongjoong carefully avoided his fingers as he took it. “You can call me anytime after sunset. I’m always awake.” He chuckled, a little awkward.

“Okay, I will,” said Hongjoong. He stepped off the kerb and turned back to Seonghwa and said, “See you, then.”

Seonghwa smiled. “See you.”

 

This is a mistake, thought Hongjoong as he stared at himself in the mirror.

He’d agreed to go somewhere he didn’t know, to do something he didn’t know, with someone he didn’t know. A vampire he didn’t know. A vampire that could literally kill him with barely any effort, that could drain him dry in minutes if the rumors were true.

Hongjoong didn’t think Seonghwa would try to kill him, or drink his blood. But tension tugged at his gut, and he couldn’t be rid of it.

He had dressed casual, and warm. He didn’t know if he needed any other clothes, or anything more than the wallet he had in his jeans pocket. 

“You should’ve asked for more details,” he muttered to himself as he left his bedroom. “Stupid.”

But at the time he hadn’t even thought about it. All he’d thought about Seonghwa’s expectant smile and his laugh, how excited he’d looked. How was Hongjoong supposed to focus on anything else?

San was sprawled out over the couch in the living room, texting. Yunho was, unsurprisingly, playing games in their room. He’d always loved gaming, but recently he’d become almost addicted to them, playing almost every minute he was free. Hongjoong was starting to worry for his sleep cycle.

“Whoa, where are you going?” asked San, jumping upright. 

“Out with a friend,” said Hongjoong. Was that a lie? He wouldn’t exactly call Seonghwa his friend.

San frowned. “Disappointing,” he said, flopping back down on the couch.

“How’s that disappointing?” asked Hongjoong, stepping into his favorite pair of converse shoes. 

“I thought maybe you were going on a date or something.”

“What? Why would you think that?” Hongjoong’s voice came out absurdly high, even to his own ears.

“More like I hoped,” said San, with a laugh. “Your lovelife’s so sad, hyung.”

“Okay, let’s try shutting up now,” said Hongjoong, trying to ignore the burning in his ears. San thought he was going on a date— 

He froze, another thought popping up. “Hey,” said Hongjoong carefully. “Did… Wooyoung say anything?”

“Anything about what?” asked San. 

He looked perfectly clueless. “Nothing,” said Hongjoong. “How is Wooyoung anyway?”

“Fine,” said San with a look. “I still like him and we’re still dating, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“It wasn’t,” said Hongjoong innocently. It had been. “Don’t leave Yunho alone.”

San rolled his eyes. “He’s the one leaving me alone,” he said. “Always talking to his dumb online friends…”

“Just stay in tonight, okay?” said Hongjoong. 

“Don’t worry, I will,” said San. “Go have fun.”

He smiled, and Hongjoong smiled back. And then Hongjoong opened the door and left.

He walked to the end of the block, where Seonghwa was supposed to pick him up. He didn’t want him driving his fancy car among the gray, austere buildings, sticking out like a gold coin in the mud. He was doubly glad now that they had decided on somewhere further away. What if San had spotted him?

Hongjoong didn’t even have the time to wonder if Seonghwa had changed his mind before he saw the black car come down the street. It stopped right in front of him, and the window rolled down to reveal a smiling Seonghwa in the driver’s seat. “Get in,” he said.

And Hongjoong did. “Right on time,” he said, putting on his seatbelt. “Where are we going?”

“Somewhere,” said Seonghwa, eyes on the road, smile playing on his lips.

Hongjoong didn’t ask any more. As the car turned and went back the way it had come, he took the time to look Seonghwa over. He was dressed in light jeans and a thin, soft sweater in wheat brown that settled loosely on his broad shoulders. He looked good. 

“Did I dress okay?” asked Hongjoong. He noticed Seonghwa start in surprise, and quickly added, “I mean, we aren’t going anywhere formal, right?”

“No, we aren’t going anywhere formal,” said Seonghwa. He glanced at Hongjoong. “You look—you look fine.”

Hongjoong felt heat rise up his neck, and quickly turned to stare out the passenger seat window. When was he going to leave this alternate reality? He wasn’t so sure how he felt about it.

They traveled together in silence for some time. The awkwardness in Hongjoong’s gut slowly dissipated, and he was just about to try more conversation when the car came to a stop. “We’re here,” said Seonghwa.

Here was a side street, in front of an array of small stores. They looked old, from before all the skyscrapers that dominated Seoul’s skyline had sprouted, and there was a charm in their old glass storefronts and brick patterned walls. 

Seonghwa got out of the car, and Hongjoong followed. The air outside was crisp and cool, and it felt good on Hongjoong’s skin. 

“Okay,” he said. “What are we doing here?”

“I need you to go in here,” said Seonghwa, motioning to the building they were standing in front of, “and buy something for me.”

It was a small shop. The front window was packed with a random assortment of items, most old and covered in dust. Hongjoong spotted everything from old lamps to crumbling showpieces to fraying clothing. Other than the dust and age, it looked like a perfectly normal store.

“What do you want?” asked Hongjoong.

“That,” said Seonghwa. He pointed to a wooden table in the storefront, on which sat a ring. It was dirty gold, or brass, and had a tiny turquoise stone inlaid in the band.

“Okay,” said Hongjoong. “And why exactly do I have to get it?”

In response, Seonghwa pointed to a dusty set of silverware sitting by the door. 

“Ah,” said Hongjoong, understanding. Silver. “So you can’t even go in?”

“It’s just very uncomfortable,” said Seonghwa. “So will you please go in and buy it for me?”

“Yeah, of course,” said Hongjoong. “It’s why I’m here, right?”

Seonghwa smiled wide. Pretty. “Thank you,” he said. He reached in the pocket of his jeans—which were a little too tight around his thighs, but Hongjoong wasn’t looking, of course not—and pulled out his wallet. “I don’t know how much it is, but there should be enough for it in here.”

“What’s your limit?” asked Hongjoong, taking the wallet. 

“However much I have in there,” said Seonghwa.

Right. Hongjoong had almost forgotten rich people had a completely different set of rules, human or vampire. He smiled tightly at Seonghwa, and then entered the store.

The shopkeeper was a middle-aged man who seemed almost surprised at getting a customer. He asked more for the ring than Hongjoong would’ve been willing to pay, but it wasn’t his ring and it wasn’t his money, so he didn’t argue. And there was a lot of money in the wallet. A lot. 

As he waited for the change, Hongjoong scanned the store. It was dark and dusty, but he caught sight of a number of things, from candlesticks to lamps to a faux set of armor, scattered throughout the room haphazardly. Tin or steel, maybe, but also maybe silver, which would explain why Seonghwa needed him. 

And that was it, wasn’t it? Hongjoong was just Seonghwa’s middleman. His courier. 

A few minutes later and Hongjoong walked out of the store, ring in hand. Seonghwa smiled when he saw him, even more when he dropped the ring in to his upturned hand.

“Thank you,” he said, in that sincere way Hongjoong was starting to associate with him. 

Hongjoong shrugged. “It’s no problem.”

Seonghwa tried the ring on. It was too small for his middle finger, which was the first one he tried, but fit snugly on his pinky. He looked so satisfied Hongjoong couldn’t help but be pleased, knowing it was because of him. 

“So, is that all?” he asked.

“Yeah,” said Seonghwa. “I can drop you home now if you want?”

Another unspoken offer hung at the end of that, but Hongjoong wasn’t accepting. “Great,” he said.

Seonghwa smiled, but it looked tight on his lips. “Okay.”

They got in the car, and as they made their way back to the depressing cluster of buildings Hongjoong called home, he paid attention to the streets they passed and realized he knew the area. There was a flea market near there he went to often, a cache of treasures if you knew where to look and were willing to dig for them. He wondered how Seonghwa had found this place, far away from his posh neighborhood, with its cramped little shops and old buildings. He could ask him. He knew Seonghwa would answer, probably with enthusiasm. Maybe even offer to tell him the whole story, and a bunch of other stories about himself, another night. 

But that felt dangerous in ways Hongjoong didn’t want to test, and so he kept his mouth shut.

He spotted a mart up ahead, and said, “You can drop me off here.”

“Here? But it’s not your place,” said Seonghwa, but he slowed down and parked the car anyway.

“I need to pick up a few things,” said Hongjoong, pointing to the mart. He flashed Seonghwa a quick smile. “Thanks.”

“Oh.” Seonghwa hesitated, and then said, “I could go with you? If you don’t mind.”

Refuse, a part of Hongjoong’s brain told him. The rational part. This is already too much. 

But instead he found himself saying, “Sure,” and the smile Seonghwa gave convinced him it was the right choice.

They were just about to enter the mart when Seonghwa stopped, looking uncertain. 

“What’s wrong?” asked Hongjoong. He’d read somewhere vampires couldn’t enter places without an invitation, that didn’t include convenience stores too, did it? 

“Nothing,” said Seonghwa. “I didn’t… prepare. But it’s fine, I won’t be coming back here, right?” He propped up a smile. “Let’s go.” 

He didn’t look like he wanted to answer whatever questions Hongjoong had, so Hongjoong dropped it, and they walked in.

The inside was brightly lit in that way only marts and hospitals could be. There was a middle-aged woman near the door, looking at drugstore makeup. When she saw Hongjoong and Seonghwa her eyes went huge, and she scurried away, almost tripping over herself in her hurry.

Hongjoong was going to make what would’ve been an embarrassing quip about his good looks, when he saw Seonghwa and was stunned silent.

Seonghwa did not look human. His skin was pale, almost luminescent under the harsh lighting overhead. There was a gloss to it that was obviously not normal. 

But he didn’t look dead. Even with his pale skin he didn’t look washed out, or faded. He looked high contrast. The black of his hair, his eyes, was ultra dark, darker than blindness. His lips were rich in color, shining in contrast to his powder white skin. 

“I’m sorry,” said Seonghwa, raising a hand to cover his face. “It’s obvious, isn’t it?”

Hongjoong couldn’t answer. He couldn’t believe he had never noticed before. How could anyone think Seonghwa was human? How did he ever fool himself into imagining Seonghwa was human?

“It’s only really obvious under bright lights,” said Seonghwa, as though he’d read Hongjoong’s mind. “It’s why all the clubs are so dimly lit. I usually wear makeup when I go out to places with a lot of light, but I didn’t think… ah, I’m sorry…”

“It’s fine,” said Hongjoong, finally finding his tongue. “It’s cool. It’s just one time.”

Seonghwa smiled, and it looked so odd on his vampire face. Warmth transposed over cold.

Hongjoong tried to ignore Seonghwa and his obvious vampirism, but it was not easy. He was attracting stares, and not the admiring kind Hongjoong imagined he’d be used to. Some shoppers dropped their baskets and left, stealing furtive glances back. Others watched with unabashed fascination. One woman made the sign of the cross over her chest.

Seonghwa valiantly ignored them all. “Do you come here often?” he asked, as Hongjoong scanned rows of ramen.

“To J-Mart? All the time.” Hongjoong found Yunho’s favorite flavor and dropped a six pack bundle in his basket. “Where quality meets affordability,” he recited, quoting the motto from memory.

“Oh.” Seonghwa shuffled behind him awkwardly. “A loyal customer?” 

Hongjoong laughed. “I work for them.”

“Here?” Seonghwa’s eyes widened.

The expression was so at odds with his corpse pale skin and dark shadows it made Hongjoong laugh again. “No, at another place,” he said. 

“Oh, okay,” said Seonghwa. He sounded relieved. “What do you do?”

“Man the counter, usually, but I’ll do whatever needs to get done,” said Hongjoong, picking up juice. He looked at Seonghwa and asked, “And you? What do you do?”

“Me?” Seonghwa looked surprised. “I don’t do anything.”

“Come on,” said Hongjoong, grinning as he looked for cereal. “You gotta do something. Where do you get gas money for your snazzy car?”

“Most of my money’s in investments,” said Seonghwa. “I get returns from those. I don’t… I don’t really do anything.”

He looked embarrassed. For being rich. Hongjoong wanted to laugh and tell Seonghwa about his three jobs, but decided against it. He couldn’t be that cruel.

They took his basket to the counter where the cashier, a girl who looked no older than Hongjoong, stared openmouthed at Seonghwa. Seonghwa seemed unbothered, but there was something about her shameless staring that put Hongjoong off, and he snapped, more rudely than he’d intended, “He has a vitamin D deficiency.”

Seonghwa snorted, an ugly, un-vampire sound, and had to clamp a hand over his mouth to hold his laughter back. Hongjoong paid for his groceries, feeling oddly pleased. 

The vampire grinned the entire drive back, until the car stopped at the same corner he’d picked Hongjoong up from. “Do you want help with those?” he asked.

“I’m fine, they’re not heavy,” said Hongjoong, as he pulled his bags out of the car.

“If you’re sure then,” said Seonghwa. He smiled. “Thank you, Hongjoong-ssi.”

He looked gorgeous. In the golden light of the streetlights he looked handsome, warm. Human. The smile he wore suited his face, suited that mouth Hongjoong found himself looking at more than once.

“It—you’re welcome,” he said.

Seonghwa fiddled with his new ring, eyes on it, and then finally looked up and asked, “Can I call you? If—if I need help again?”

Hongjoong was still. He should say no. Politely, of course, but no. If he had any sense he’d say no. Because Seonghwa was San’s boyfriend’s brother, because he was rich and charming and a vampire, because it was obvious how he felt about Hongjoong. 

Because this was already too much. Because Hongjoong had guessed his intentions and still agreed. Because any more and Seonghwa would get the wrong idea, think there was something there that would never happen.

And now here he was, sitting in his expensive car, looking up at Hongjoong with earnest hope, and Hongjoong should say no. 

“Okay,” said Hongjoong. 

Seonghwa’s face lit up with a wide, blinding smile. “Okay,” he repeated. “Okay. I’ll see you later, Hongjoong-ssi. Again, thank you so, so much.”

“It’s no problem,” said Hongjoong weakly. “See you.”

Seonghwa gave him one last warm look, and then he drove off, car rolling down the empty street.

Hongjoong watched him go, wondering what he’d gotten himself into. 

Chapter Text

Mingi didn’t like going out.

If he thought about it, he really didn’t understand the people who did. Like Wooyoung, who left the house almost every chance he got, trying new clubs and meeting new people. Mingi would rather stay at home, play games, watch cat videos. He had his phone and his bed and his computer, and all the people he liked were in his house.

Mingi didn’t like going out, which was good, because he wasn’t allowed to.

No one talked about it, but it was obvious. The others brought back bottles of blood from the club they went to, that club Mingi had heard of but never seen. Someone always stayed home with him, usually Yeosang or Seonghwa, sometimes Jongho, working as an unspoken babysitter. When he wanted fresh air he didn’t cross the boundary of their big backyard, didn’t even go near it. He ordered all his clothes and gadgets online. He wasn’t even allowed to receive the deliveries. 

And Mingi understood, he really did. He understood and he didn’t usually mind. It just got a little lonely sometimes.

Like right then. Wooyoung’s human boyfriend San had come over again, and everyone was downstairs hanging out with him.

Everyone except Mingi. It sucked. He was a little upset, he wasn’t going to deny it. When they had human guests, Seonghwa or Wooyoung would come up once in a while and ask how he was doing, maybe chill in the room with him for some time. But with San everyone seemed to forget about Mingi. 

Mingi wanted to go downstairs, meet San, see what made Seonghwa call him cute or what got Wooyoung so giggly. But he couldn’t. For San’s safety he had to stay put.

He remembered the night San had first come to the house. Mingi had hung around in the corridor upstairs, catching bits of conversation and the whiff of a scent that clawed at his insides with thirst. After San had left and everyone was getting ready for sunrise, Jongho had come to see him.

“Seonghwa-hyung refuses to accept the truth, so I have to do this,” he had said, grim. “You can’t come out of your room when San’s here.”

“What? Why?” Mingi had not been happy. “I’ll stay upstairs, nowhere near him.”

“I’m sorry, hyung,” Jongho had said. He’d looked so serious. “But San is… he smells so good. It’s hard even for me to be around him too long. If you smelled him, just a little bit…” He’d frowned. “No one wants anyone to get hurt.”

And Mingi understood. But that didn’t mean he had to like it. 

So here he was, a prisoner in his own house, wondering what he could do for the next couple of hours.

He could mope. He was in the mood for moping, or rolling around being sulky. But even Mingi knew that was a bad idea, so he chose the next option.

He turned on his computer and logged onto Starfell.

Starfell was a new online multiplayer game, and Mingi’s current favorite despite the fact that he couldn’t play it worth a damn. In a lot of ways it was like a lot of the games Mingi had played before, typical medieval setting, typical races and classes. But for some reason Mingi just could not master it. He died all the time in-game, on every quest and mission, no matter how basic. His greatest accomplishment so far was creating a level 4 friendship with the NPC tavern keeper.

There were a ton of different servers available, some you had to punch a code to find and enter. Mingi was going to enter the one he usually played, when he heard a burst of sharp laughter from downstairs. 

Wooyoung. You could pick Wooyoung and his Muppet laugh out of a million. Mingi hesitated, and then entered the server code San had shared the first time he’d come over.

It was a pretty sparsely populated map. The players on this server were more advanced than Mingi was used to, they’d opened locations he’d never seen before. He decided to wander around.

He spotted other players as he explored. No one bothered him, and he didn’t dare bother them. He was just a puny level 2 player, he wasn’t going to ask them to partner with him. They were all decked out in high level weapons and armor, and didn’t look like they needed help. 

Mingi was about to enter the forest when he saw a player character approach. It was one of those species whose names he’d never bothered memorizing, with the typical black armor and goth aesthetic. It was a look Seonghwa liked to dress up in when he was feeling himself, which was why Mingi never chose one of those types no matter what game he played. 

He had no idea what this random dude wanted—if he wanted to rob him he was shit out of luck, the most valuable thing Mingi carried was a loaf of bread—but his jaw dropped when he saw the message pop up on the screen.

<[Tarantallegra] requests audio chat.>

Mingi scrambled for his headset. He’d never used it while playing Starfell before. He didn’t know anybody in the game. Hell, he didn’t even know this goth dude with the weird name. But he wanted to talk, and Mingi didn’t even think of refusing.

<You’ve accepted the request.>

“Hey, are you new here?”

It was a guy. Young, Mingi guessed, but not a kid. He spoke Korean, but most Starfell players were Korean, so that wasn’t unusual. What was unusual was him talking to a literal stranger.

“Uh, yeah,” said Mingi. And then because he couldn’t help it, “You could’ve just sent a chat.”

“I’m not gonna waste my fingers on typing,” said the stranger with a laugh. 

He had a nice laugh. He just had a nice way of talking, warm and friendly. Mingi tried to memorize his name, got as far as the first two syllables, and then gave up.

“Are you new to the game?” asked the guy Mingi called Taran. 

“Uh, not that new,” said Mingi. “I just really suck.”

Another laugh, but there was nothing mean behind it. “Everyone does, at first,” said Taran. “Are you alone? Where’s your party?”

“Don’t have one,” said Mingi. “I’m solo.”

“Huh? Why’d you pick this class then?”

“What’s wrong with this class?” asked Mingi. He’d picked his character like he always did, scrolling through all the options until he found the prettiest one. He never bothered with stats or advantages. He always became good enough to complete quests and beat other players no matter what he started with.

“You’re an angel,” said Taran.

Mingi squinted at the screen. “Uh… thanks?”

“No, your class,” said Taran, laughing. “Angels are team players. They’re not really effective solo. They mostly boost their teammates’ powers.”

“What? That sucks,” said Mingi. “Why’d they make such a dumb class so pretty?”

“Don’t tell me you chose your class based on looks,” said Taran with a snort.

“Of course I did!”

“Idiot,” said Taran, but there was zero meanness. 

“Well, what are you?” asked Mingi, just a little sulkily.

“I’m a vampire,” said Taran.

Mingi choked on nothing. Was this guy really admitting to a total stranger that he was a vampire? Seriously?

“The official name is night creature,” said Taran. “But it’s totally a vampire.”

Oh,” said Mingi, finally getting it. “It—the class. Right.”

“Their abilities are much stronger in the nighttime,” continued Taran, like he hadn’t just given Mingi a heart attack and then brought him back in the last two minutes. “I don’t get a lot of time to play during the day, so it’s perfect for me. And they’re really good in both combat skills and sorcery skills.”

“Cool,” said Mingi. Taran sounded like a pro. 

“Yeah, but they’re totally useless during the day,” said Taran. “Almost as bad as your angel.”

Sounded a lot like real vampires. “You’ve been playing a long time?” asked Mingi. 

“Not that long,” said Taran.

“How do you know about all the classes and stuff then?” asked Mingi. The headset almost slipped off, and he caught it with the back of his hand.

“I read about them,” answered Taran. “It’s all in the lore page. You didn’t read that?”

“Uh… no.” Mingi was a little embarrassed. Taran seemed so much cooler and smarter than him.

“Oh, I thought it was really neat,” said Taran. “I love that fantasy stuff. It’s cool though, I can give you a rundown on angels and what they do. Let’s go and find some stuff to level you up.”

And so they played together awhile. Taran taught Mingi some tricks, showed him hidden locations where it was easier to get points. By the end of a couple of hours Mingi felt more confident in the game than he’d ever had before, and had a lot more gold and experience than when he’d started.

“Okay, I gotta get to bed now,” said Taran, stifling a yawn. “Good luck, dude.”

“Thanks,” said Mingi. “You really helped me out.”

“Hey, it’s no problem,” said Taran, and it sounded like he really meant it. “See you around.”

And then Taran logged off, and Mingi played by himself for some time. 

 

The next time Mingi saw Taran was a couple of nights later, around 2 am.

Like before, Taran asked for a voice chat without hesitation. “It’s late, dude, why are you up?” he asked.

“You literally didn’t even say hi,” said Mingi, laughing.

“Hi,” said Taran, grin in his voice. “Why are you up?”

Because Mingi was a vampire, and he didn’t sleep at night. “No reason,” he said, trying to sound casual. “What about you? You’re up too.”

“Couldn’t sleep,” said Taran. “Hey, wanna fight a demon? Your holy powers are strong against them.”

“Sure,” said Mingi. He didn’t really care. He wanted to hang with Taran for some time. 

As Taran went through his inventory for the stuff he needed, Mingi asked the question he’d been thinking of ever since they met.

“What’s up with your name?” he asked. “It’s super weird.”

“Oh, it’s a spell from Harry Potter,” said Taran. A glittery white sword appeared at his waist, a sharp contrast to the black cloak. “You know Harry Potter, right?”

“Yeah,” said Mingi. “That English kid with the round glasses. Expecto patrona.”

Taran laughed. “It’s expecto patronum,” he said. 

“Right,” said Mingi, unembarrassed. The way Taran talked just made him more comfortable.

“I love it,” said Taran. “I’ve watched all the movies a billion times, and I read all the books too.”

“Oh man, you read books? You really are smart.”

“It’s just Harry Potter,” said Taran. “Everyone reads Harry Potter.”

“Nope,” said Mingi, popping the p.

“What? You never read the books?” asked Taran. “Not even one?”

“No,” said Mingi, grinning. Taran sounded so surprised.

“But you’ve watched the movies, right?”

“Uh… one? I think?” 

The gasp Taran gave made Mingi burst out laughing. “No,” he said, scandalized. 

Mingi just laughed in response. Taran’s shock was hilarious.

“Which one?” demanded Taran. “Philosopher’s Stone? Prisoner of Azkaban?”

“I don’t know the name,” said Mingi, finally calm enough to talk. “There was this creepy skinny little dude with floppy ears—”

“Dobby?” 

“Sure,” said Mingi. He had no idea. “There was a humongous snake at the end. Like, huge. Scary big.”

“Chamber of Secrets,” said Taran knowledgeably. “Good movie.”

“I don’t really remember,” admitted Mingi. “I watched it ages ago.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty old,” said Taran. He sighed. “I still can’t believe you never watched the movies…”

In the end, they didn’t go fight the demon. They stood where they were, talking about movies, and books, and the movies Mingi liked, and everything in between.

It got close to sunrise, and Mingi had to go. “I’ll catch you later?” he said, trying not to sound too hopeful. 

“Definitely,” said Taran. He sounded determined.

Mingi grinned at the screen, and logged off.

 

It became a nightly thing. Mingi would join the Starfell server, wait until Taran showed up, and then they’d never bother adventuring and just talk for hours. 

Mingi learned a lot about Taran. He learned that he worked part-time at a retail store, that he was in university studying marketing. He also learned that he was a dancer.

“That is so cool,” he said, awed.

“I’m still learning,” said Taran, and he sounded embarrassed but so, so pleased.

“It’d be awesome to watch you dance one day,” said Mingi, totally genuine.

“Maybe one day,” said Taran, and he laughed, but it was different from his usual big, loud laugh. It was sweeter, and smaller. 

Taran asked about Mingi too, but Mingi had to be more careful with his answers. He lived with his brothers in their family home. His parents were both dead. He didn’t have a job.

“Okay, I gotta ask,” said Taran one night, as they stood inside the dark forest. “How old are you?”

Mingi’s mind raced for a good answer. Should he be a teenager? Was that too young? What if he said a number too high, and Taran thought he was old and gross?

“Twenty-one,” he said finally. He squeezed his eyes shut and hoped it was okay.

“Cool, me too,” said Taran, with a relieved exhale. “I’ll be honest, I was a little scared you were, like, a middle schooler. But with a crazy deep voice.”

Mingi laughed. “It’s true,” he said, making his voice as deep as he could. “I’m fourteen years old.”

Taran burst out laughing, and Mingi grinned. He found that he really liked making Taran laugh. 

“Dude, don’t even joke about that,” said Taran, trying to control his laughter. “If you really turned out to be fourteen I would’ve legit had a heart attack. And then when I got to heaven they’d ask me how I died and I’d have to say it was because FixOnSong was a middle schooler.”

“Mingi,” said Mingi without thinking.

“Hmm?”

“Uh, my name is Mingi,” said Mingi, and he suddenly felt embarrassed. “Song Mingi.”

“I’m Yunho,” said Taran. He sounded completely normal. “Jeong Yunho.”

Yunho. “That’s a nice name,” blurted out Mingi, and then immediately threw himself facedown onto his bed. Why did he say something so stupid—

“Thanks,” said Taran—no, not Taran, Yunho. He laughed a little. “Yours… yours too.”

Mingi’s maker had named him. She insisted that had been his name even before turning, but he didn’t remember his life before and he’d never totally trusted her, so he couldn’t be sure. He hadn’t cared before—he was himself, whatever name he had—but now he decided he really did like his name.

“Thanks,” he murmured.

They spent the rest of their time together talking about dancing and music, and Yunho’s dance classes (he mostly did street dance, which Mingi thought was wicked cool, and told Yunho so, making Yunho laugh in that sweet way of his that only came out once in a while). When it hit around 2:30 am, Yunho had to go sleep. 

“Hey, can I have your kakao?” asked Yunho, just before he logged off. 

He sounded so casual, so relaxed, but Mingi felt excitement spike in his gut. He had a kakao, and all sorts of basic social media profiles, made so he could talk and seem normal to the few casual friends he made online. But this wasn’t just a casual friend. This was Yunho, and he wanted Mingi’s kakao.

“Sure,” said Mingi, trying to sound as relaxed as Yunho.

When Mingi woke up the next night, he saw he had three messages from one GoldenPup, full name Jeong Yunho. 

 

GoldenPup:
Please,,, how much longer is this class going to be,,,
End my suffering

Want pancakes. is that normal at 2pm pls say yes

Omgggg look at this dog i petted today!!!!!!
[IMG_458]
Her name is lily and shes the goodest girl 

Mingi read over the messages, guilt twisting his belly. The last one had been sent around four in the afternoon. Mingi had only woken up at six thirty.

It wasn’t the first time either. Yunho texted randomly throughout the day, and Mingi was never able to reply at the right time. He tried, he really did, dragging himself out of the death-like sleep that took all vampires during the day, but the notification sound was never loud enough to wake him up, and the closest he’d gotten so far was replying one hour after getting Yunho’s text. Yunho always said it was okay, but it wasn’t okay, not to Mingi. 

He looked up from his phone to Wooyoung, who was sprawled out over the couch opposite, texting furiously with a huge grin on his face. San. Wooyoung only grinned like that when he was texting San.

“Hey, Woo,” Mingi called out.

“Hmm?” Wooyoung didn’t take his eyes off the phone.

“San texts you sometimes during the day, right?” asked Mingi. “How do you reply?” Wooyoung was even worse at bearing the daytime than Mingi.

“I don’t,” said Wooyoung. “I just reply to all of them at the same time when I wake up.”

“But that’s only okay because San knows you’re a vampire,” groaned Mingi. That wasn’t going to work with Yunho.

Wooyoung shrugged, went back to texting. He was obviously busy.

Yeosang, who’d been silently listening to their conversation, was not. “What’s up, Mingi?” he asked. “Don’t tell me you’re after some human piece too.”

“No way,” said Mingi indignantly. Yunho was not a piece. “I made a friend online and I wanna reply to his dog pictures.”

“Then reply when you wake up,” said Yeosang.

Mingi groaned and slid down his sofa. Why did the useful members of his family have to be out?

“You need an excuse for why you can’t reply during the day?” asked Yeosang. 

Mingi looked at him and nodded.

“You’re sick,” said Yeosang. “Chronic incurable illness. It makes you sleep all the time. Did you tell him you work or anything?”

Mingi shook his head.

“Perfect then,” said Yeosang. “You don’t work because you can’t.”

“But I told him I’m studying,” said Mingi. He was supposed to be a zoology major.

“Online classes.”

That won’t work, Mingi was going to say, but he stopped. Why wouldn’t it work? “Yeosang,” he said finally. “You’re a genius.”

Yeosang smiled. “Glad I could help.” He poked Wooyoung on the shoulder, and Wooyoung wordlessly slid down until his back was to Yeosang’s chest and settled there, busy with his phone the entire time.

Later that night, when they were talking on the phone, Mingi tried Yeosang’s story. 

“Shit, I had no idea,” said Yunho. “Is it bad?”

He sounded so worried. “It’s okay,” said Mingi, feeling guiltier than ever. “It just messed up my sleep cycle. And I—I can’t really go out.” He hated saying that, but he had to. He couldn’t ever meet Yunho in person, and he didn’t want him to think it was because he didn’t want to.

“How do you feel?” asked Yunho.

“Fine,” said Mingi. “Just… I’m mostly only awake at night. Sorry.”

“Don’t say sorry,” said Yunho. “You don’t need to be sorry for anything. I get it.” He paused. “My dad died from lung disease.”

Mingi wanted to punch himself. He shoved his face in his pillow and screamed. Why would he say that? Why? Yeosang and his stupid idea—

“I’m so sorry,” Mingi was finally able to say.

“It’s… it was a long time ago,” said Yunho. “I was just a kid. But I remember near the end he was so tired all the time, and he always apologized for not being able to take me to my dance practice or helping me with my homework and… you don’t have to say sorry, Mingi.”

Mingi swallowed. “How…?” He wasn’t sure what he was asking.

“He worked at the rubber factory,” said Yunho, understanding regardless. “It wasn’t really safe. My dad always blamed himself for taking the job, but I understood, even then. We lived in a tiny town outside Seoul and there weren’t many other jobs, and my mom had already died a few years before. It wasn’t his fault.”

“Your dad must’ve loved you a lot,” muttered Mingi.

A sad, soft hum. “Yeah.”

“I… I don’t remember my parents,” said Mingi, and he didn’t know why he said it. “The only family I have are—are my brothers. I guess my parents loved me.” He told himself they did, but he didn’t know that. His maker told him that he’d been an orphan, but she knew nothing about his parents. And now neither did Mingi. 

“I’m sure they did,” said Yunho, and he sounded so certain. “If they were here they’d love you more than anything.”

“Even the way I am now?” Mingi whispered, more to himself. Wrong. Messed up. Thirsty all the time. 

“Yes,” said Yunho fiercely. “Don’t—don’t think like that. It’s not your fault.”

Except Mingi didn’t know if it was. He might have chosen vampirism. He might’ve chosen the thing that made him lie to Yunho, never let him meet him. The thing that meant if Mingi ever did meet Yunho, he’d try to kill him.

Turning was a complex, difficult process. Mingi’s maker hadn’t been experienced enough for it. Mingi had ended up like this, all memories of his human life gone, bloodlust so strong he was unable to even be around humans without craving blood. He couldn’t say it was hard for him to adjust to his life, because it was the only one he had ever known. 

“Hey,” murmured Mingi. “I’m really glad we know each other.”

Silence. “Me too,” said Yunho softly.

 

One night, after a ton of convincing, Mingi sat down to watch the first Harry Potter movie, Yunho on the line the entire time.

“You’re gonna love them,” promised Yunho as the movie started. It had taken a bit of fiddling to get their movies started at the same time, but it was finally ready.

“I better,” said Mingi. “If I don’t, you owe me.”

“Fine, fine,” said Yunho. “Come on, it’s starting.”

It wasn’t a bad movie. In truth, Mingi didn’t pay a lot of attention to it. Yunho was so excited to watch, telling Mingi to get ready for what he thought were the best bits or commenting on things he liked, and Mingi thought that better than the movie itself. 

“So?” said Yunho expectantly, as the end credits rolled. 

“You didn’t tell me there was a big spider in it,” groaned Mingi. “I wouldn’t have watched it if I knew there was going to be a big-ass spider in it.” He’d had to shut his eyes the entire time the thing was on screen.

“Yeah, that’s exactly why I didn’t tell you,” said Yunho, laughing. “But it was good, right?”

It was good, but Mingi wasn’t going to give it to Yunho so easy. “I’ve watched better,” he said.

Yunho squawked. “You’ve watched better? You—”

Mingi laughed, and lay down to listen to Yunho lecture him for as long as he wanted.

 

The first thing Mingi did when he woke up after sunset was check his phone. He had texts from Yunho.

He scrolled through, lazy smile on his face. Yunho complained about waking up early for class, talked about the new ice cream shop that opened near his campus, about the presentation he was supposed to give in the afternoon and—

Mingi dropped his phone.

It hit the floor with a sharp crack. He yelped, panicked, and got on his knees to pick it up. The screen had a brand new crack across the surface, but it was fine otherwise.

Which meant Mingi got a second opportunity to stare at the picture on the screen. Under a text reading presentation done!!! ^^ was a picture of a guy, young, with dark hair and wearing a formal shirt. He was cute. He was more than cute. He was gorgeous, with big, sparkling eyes, and a beautiful smile that lifted his round, flawless cheeks.

He was Yunho.

Mingi shoved his face into his mattress and screamed.

Yunho’s kakao profile photo was a pretty golden retriever puppy on a bench. He probably had other pictures online, but Mingi never bothered to look. Yunho was Yunho, no matter what he looked like. Mingi didn’t know he looked like that.

When he was halfway normal, Mingi picked up his phone. He had to reply. Yunho had sent him a selfie, he had to say something. Something normal.

You look good he started, and then erased it all. Youre cute he wrote, and erased that even faster. In a flurry he typed youre literally the most beautiful person ive ever seen and i cant believe i didnt know until now and then deleted it just as quick.

Mingi wrote and rewrote until he was almost sick. In the end he settled on hope it went okay! you look sharp and hit send before he could change his mind. He got a reply less than a minute later.

GoldenPup:
Thanks ^^

Mingi groaned and lay down flat on the floor, exhausted.

 

But the torture never ended. Yunho sent selfies regularly, and every time Mingi got one his heart flip-flopped in his chest. Yunho would send pictures of dogs he met on the street, of interesting ads in the mall where he worked, of his lunch if he had something new. And he’d send pictures of himself. Smiling at the camera, pointing at interesting stuff, scratching dogs behind the ear. 

If Mingi wasn’t already dead, he was sure he’d have had a heart attack by now.

With every selfie he received (and saved, and moved to his secret folder to look at whenever he wanted) Mingi got a little more nervous. Yunho never asked for a selfie back, but all Mingi could think of was sending him one too. It only seemed fair. He knew what Yunho looked like, he could imagine Yunho during their phone calls, and he wanted Yunho to be able to do that too.

Except Mingi couldn’t take pictures of himself. Vampires did not come out right in photos, neither digital nor film. It was the biggest struggle of Seonghwa’s life. Mingi had tried taking selfies before, and they all turned out scary. His eyes always looked demonic.

But he wanted to send Yunho a selfie, and he was going to do it. So he went to the one person you could always depend on. 

“What’s up?” asked Jongho, pausing the video he was watching.

“I need your help with something,” said Mingi. “You know how to edit photos, right?”

“Yeah,” said Jongho. He looked suspicious. “Why?”

“I need you to make me look normal in a selfie,” said Mingi. “Can you do that?”

“Sure, I do it for Seonghwa-hyung sometimes,” said Jongho, shrugging. “But I wanna know why.”

“I just want a nice picture of myself,” said Mingi, trying to look casual. 

Jongho snorted. “A nice picture? Of you? I edit photos, not work miracles.”

“You little dick, are you gonna do it or not?” demanded Mingi.

“Relax, I’ll do it,” said Jongho, grinning. “Give me the picture, and come back tomorrow.”

 

It was a good picture.

Jongho had really come through for Mingi. He looked completely human in the picture, eyes a beautiful deep brown. Jongho had even edited a few more, leaving Mingi options for the future. Mingi’s favorite was the first one he’d given Jongho, one where he had his hair down, looking just the right mix between sharp and sweet.

Mingi scanned it for the thousandth time, looking for flaws. He’d edited it, but just a bit, so it still looked like him. One of the few advantages of being a vampire meant he always had clear skin, so there wasn’t much to worry about, but he was still nervous.

He couldn’t help it. He was sending it to Yunho. He didn’t think Yunho was going to judge his face or make fun of him or anything, but Yunho was so good-looking, and Mingi was just Mingi. He was okay. He wasn’t Yunho.

That night, as usual, Yunho texted him. He was tired from classes and work, where some rude asshole had yelled in his face for fifteen minutes. Mingi grumbled aloud and replied.

What did u do?

GoldenPup:
What could i do??? I gave him the :] face 

I wouldve thrown him out the window

GoldenPup:
You wouldve got me fired lmao

And??? 

GoldenPup:
Asadjkahsdk youre the worst

Mingi smiled at the phone screen. He imagined Yunho doing the same.

GoldenPup:
Im so tired

And he followed the text with a selfie. He was in his room, face half hidden by the pillow, dark hair sticking out every direction. Mingi stared, trying to keep himself in check. Every selfie Yunho sent was a test, and Mingi got close to failing every one. He couldn’t reply with something stupid or cringeworthy now.

You dont look that tired

That was okay, wasn’t it? It was a lot better than you look like the most gorgeous person on earth, which was what Mingi wanted to write.

GoldenPup:
Thanks?? I feel half dead

Im 100% dead and feeling fine Mingi wrote, before he remembered himself and erased it. Instead he sent thats still half alive

GoldenPup:
Hmm i guess
So hw ws your day?

This was it. This was the moment. Mingi sent back pretty good and before he could convince himself otherwise, he sent the selca with it. Then he threw his phone on the bed and lay down flat, covering his face with a pillow. 

His phone started ringing.

Mingi yelled into the pillow. Why? Why was Yunho calling him, why

He had to pick up. He knew he did. He swallowed, and with his guts all knotted up, answered the phone and held it to his ear.

Mingi,” yelled Yunho. “You didn’t tell me you were cute.”

Mingi sputtered. Cute—?

“What the hell, man,” said Yunho. “I thought—I don’t know, I thought you’d look sickly or something, like—like— what. What?”

“Uh…” Mingi didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know if he could even say anything. Yunho called him cute.

“You’ve been holding out on me,” said Yunho, and he was laughing. “Like, what? Really? You look like that and this is the first photo you sent me! I’m hurt, Mingi. You betrayed me.”

“Oh, my god, shut up,” said Mingi, trying to ignore the happy little twist in his chest. 

“Like I’ll ever shut up about this.”

Mingi shoved his face into the pillow, half wishing he could suffocate. 

“I guess I shouldn’t say this but I was seriously surprised,” said Yunho, and the smile was obvious in his voice. “I thought you were, like, ugly. I’m sorry but I really thought you were. I thought, hmm, that’s probably why he doesn’t have his pics up on any of his profiles, he probably looks like Voldemort—”

“Yunho!”

“—but you look like, well, you,” continued Yunho, not missing a beat. “I mean, really?”

“Shut up,” said Mingi. It was impossible to describe the feeling in his belly now, like a million fireworks going off one after the other. “Like you’re not super gorgeous.”

Yunho squealed. He literally squealed. “Stop,” he said. “You’re—you’re just saying that.”

“No way,” said Mingi. “I don’t just say things.”

There was silence on the line, enough for Mingi to get his feelings mostly under control. He lay still, waiting for a response.

“Really?” asked Yunho quietly. “You really mean that?”

He almost sounded nervous, which was weird, because Yunho was never nervous, and he never made Mingi nervous. But Mingi was nervous. This wasn’t just him talking to a friend he made online. This felt different, and Mingi really, really did not want to mess it up.

“Yeah,” he said, honest. “I really mean it.”

More silence. “Good,” said Yunho. “Because I mean it too.” And he laughed, small and sweet.

Mingi blinked up at the ceiling. And then he broke into a huge grin.

“So,” said Yunho, voice full with his smile. “What else did you do today, aside from take a killer selfie?”

“Uh, slept,” said Mingi, still smiling as he rolled onto his front and stretched. 

“Ugh, I’m jealous,” said Yunho. “I wanna sleep too.”

“Right now?”

“What? No, not right now. You know, that girl came in today, right after the screaming dude left.”

“Purple hair girl? What did she do this time?”

“Nothing.”

“I don’t believe you. Tell me.”

“Well, okay…”

Chapter Text

Slim fit trousers in a creamy off-white, white t-shirt tucked in and paired with a well-fitting blazer in shadowy blue. With his hair combed away from his forehead to show off one platinum stud in his ear, Seonghwa was ready.

Not for the first time he thanked the day humans starting backing mirrors with aluminium instead of silver. He wouldn’t have been able to survive so long without being able to see his reflection. Seonghwa checked his face in the mirror one last time, making sure he looked perfect. He was wearing a full face of makeup, enough to disguise the deathly pallor, and enough to make his eyes stand out. He always wore makeup when he went out with Hongjoong ever since that first time he’d been caught unprepared when they entered the mart, but this time he knew for certain they would be entering a brightly lit place so he had to look flawless.

Seonghwa couldn’t really call the outings with Hongjoong dates. They weren’t dates. Hongjoong didn’t hold Seonghwa’s hand, or kiss him—on the lips or the cheek or anywhere at all—or do anything that was more than platonic. They were just friendly outings. And Seonghwa wouldn’t deny it, he had fun. But if Hongjoong maybe wanted to hold his hand, he wouldn’t stop him. 

The other members of the coven were downstairs, parked on different articles of furniture and absorbed in their own business. Seonghwa didn’t expect much reaction when he told them he was going out, but he was wrong.

“Going on another date?” asked Wooyoung, grinning like the devil.

“It’s not a date,” said Seonghwa. 

“Oh, please,” scoffed Yeosang. “We all know. You’ve found another human to fall in love with. Again.”

Seonghwa sputtered, offended. 

“I wonder what this one’s like,” said Mingi. He found the current conversation interesting enough for him to put his phone down. 

“Small and pretty,” said Jongho.

“They’re all small and pretty,” said Wooyoung. “Remember the last one? Sejin. Yeojin. Something-jin.”

“Youngjin,” muttered Seonghwa. He didn’t see what Youngjin had to do with this.

“You were, like, crazy for him,” said Wooyoung. “And he looked a lot like that other guy you were dating before. Half your size and super pretty are your type.”

“And human,” supplied Jongho.

Wooyoung nodded. “And human.”

“What?” Yeosang put his book down. “Youngjin wasn’t pretty. He was just short.”

“What are you talking about?” said Mingi, sitting up in indignation like he was personally offended. “Youngjin was super pretty! I saw pictures of him!”

“He was just average,” said Yeosang.

“No one’s pretty to you, Yeosang,” said Wooyoung, rolling his eyes. “You compare everyone to yourself, and you’re literally the prettiest person on Earth.”

Yeosang raised his book to hide the smile on his face. 

“Just… be careful, hyung,” said Jongho, suddenly serious. “You get so attached so quick. Just make sure you don’t get hurt.”

Seonghwa smiled. It always made him happy to know the others cared about him, especially Jongho. The Jongho he had first met seemed like he had existed in another life.

The sky was clear outside, and according to weather reports the air was supposed to have a slight chill. Seonghwa had become adept at dressing to look like he could feel temperature. On the drive to pick up Hongjoong he spotted people in light jackets, and he was confident he fit in perfectly. Taehee had taught him how to pass for human.

As usual, Seonghwa pulled up to the corner near Hongjoong’s apartment complex. Seonghwa knew why Hongjoong didn’t let him pick him up from the front of the building, and he never commented. He understood why he would want to keep their outings secret from San—it was why Seonghwa hadn’t told any members of his coven about them either. Telling one of them was the same as telling all of them, and if Wooyoung knew about their relationship he’d spill to San in a second.

“It’s not even a relationship,” muttered Seonghwa to himself. 

He waited a few minutes, and was ready to take out his phone and call, when he saw him. 

It always amazed Seonghwa how much space Hongjoong’s aura occupied. Even now, as he walked down the empty sidewalk, he just exuded energy. Seonghwa knew what warmth was supposed to feel like, but he’d been a vampire so long he couldn’t really remember. When he thought of Hongjoong, he imagined warmth.

Hongjoong smiled at him through the window of the passenger side door, and then climbed in. “Sorry I’m late,” he said. 

He was wearing an oversized black blazer with a striped black and white t-shirt underneath, and a plain silver colored chain with a ring through it around his neck. All his hair was tucked into a simple black beret. He looked so stunning it took Seonghwa a moment to gather himself.

“You owe me,” he said, focusing again on the road as he drove. If he was any more obvious it would be awkward. 

Hongjoong groaned and sank into the seat. “Great, how many do I owe you now?” 

“Many,” said Seonghwa, grinning. “So, so many.”

That earned him a look, and then a laugh.

Seonghwa had become much more comfortable around Hongjoong over the nights, and he felt Hongjoong had relaxed a bit too. He laughed louder, more often. It was nice.

“So, where are we going?” asked Hongjoong. “I dressed up a bit, as asked. This is okay, right?”

“It’s perfect,” said Seonghwa sincerely. “The place we’re going doesn’t really have a dress code anyway. I’ve seen people there in sandals and cargo shorts.”

“But not you,” said Hongjoong. 

Seonghwa scoffed. “Never.”

“Have you ever worn cargo shorts in your life?” asked Hongjoong. The smile was obvious in his voice.

“Never,” said Seonghwa. “And I take great pride in that.”

Hongjoong chuckled, but didn’t comment. 

Their destination was pretty far, and the buildings changed as they went, going from plain, practical gray blocks to more modern fronts, all glass and metal and sharp architecture. Seonghwa glanced at Hongjoong and found him looking out the window, tracking the LED signs as they passed by. “Have you been around here before?” he asked, breaking the comfortable silence.

“Sometimes,” said Hongjoong. He shot Seonghwa a mischievous look. “Boring area.”

“Don’t say that already,” whined Seonghwa. 

“Please don’t tell me you’re taking me to a rich people thing,” said Hongjoong, with a brief laugh. 

It was kind of a rich people thing. It was an exhibition at an upscale art gallery. 

The front of the building was made entirely of glass, stretching all three storeys. The inside was brightly lit, layout irregular. Walls extended out haphazardly, artworks displayed at eye level, and solid blocks of white served as pedestals for small, tasteful flower arrangements. All the people inside were from money and dressed like it.

As they entered, Hongjoong was silent. Seonghwa didn’t say anything, just watched him, feeling his insides twist as he tried to decipher the look on his face.

“Alright,” said Hongjoong finally. “Did San tell you?”

“Tell me what?” Seonghwa was lost.

“That I paint,” said Hongjoong.

“No, he didn’t tell me anything,” said Seonghwa. He blinked. “You paint?”

“Yeah,” said Hongjoong, looking embarrassed now. He turned away, started wandering among the paintings. “I like art. I thought that’s why you, uh, we came here.”

“I had no idea,” said Seonghwa, following Hongjoong. Somehow it made sense. The image of Hongjoong sitting at an easel, creating a unique piece of art, fit together in his mind effortlessly. “What kind?”

“Expressionism, fauvism,” said Hongjoong, eyes on the artworks. “I like some post-impressionist artists too, like Gauguin and van Gogh, but a lot of them were too… I dunno, scientific about their work. Pointillism looks cool and interesting, it really draws the eye in, and obviously Seurat and Signac and their contemporaries were great artists, but there’s something kind of restrictive about their work.”

Seonghwa hummed in response. He had no idea what Hongjoong was talking about. He was trying to memorize what he was saying so he could search up the words later. 

“I guess there is, like, an overlap,” continued Hongjoong, “but art isn’t supposed to be science. It’s just supposed to be… art.” He looked at Seonghwa. “You know?”

“Yeah,” said Seonghwa, nodding.

“Did you get anything from what I said?” asked Hongjoong, tilting his head.

Seonghwa stood still, thinking hard, and then finally said, “Van Gogh.”

Hongjoong blinked at him, and then he burst into the biggest, most beautiful smile. “Yeah, van Gogh,” he said, still smiling. 

“I’m sorry, I don’t know anything about art or all that stuff,” said Seonghwa. 

“Then why did you wanna come here?” asked Hongjoong.

Because I wanted to spend time with you. “Just,” said Seonghwa with a shrug. “Thought of buying a painting. Supporting a local artist and all that, you know.”

“Cool,” said Hongjoong. “Like, for your house? Do you decorate to a color scheme or anything?”

“Not really,” lied Seonghwa. “Just… pick whatever you think looks good.”

Hongjoong stopped. “Me?” He looked flustered. “Why should I pick? It’s your house.”

“And you’re the expert,” said Seonghwa.

“I’m not an expert,” said Hongjoong. “I just… like it.”

Perhaps because he couldn’t blush, Seonghwa was absolutely fascinated when people did. And Hongjoong was blushing now, not hard, but enough to color his cheeks, turn the ends of his ears a lovely pink. He looked so stunning when he was flustered, and it made Seonghwa want to fluster him even more. He could be cruel like that.

“You are a total expert,” said Seonghwa, putting as much sincerity into his voice as he could. “Compared to me, anyway. Pick what you like, and tell me about it, so when guests come over I can impress them with my art knowledge.”

“Well, if you insist,” said Hongjoong. 

He avoided Seonghwa’s gaze in favor of staring at paintings. And Seonghwa loved seeing him so interested, and of course of getting ample opportunity to look at his face undisturbed, but he might’ve decided against this place if he had known Hongjoong would pay him such little attention.

Seonghwa craved Hongjoong’s affection with an intensity that was almost pathetic. A couple walked past holding hands, and Seonghwa watched them with acidic envy. One woman tugged at the other, dragging her to art pieces she liked and talking about them eagerly, all the while interlocking their fingers together and standing close. They both looked older than Hongjoong, by at least nine or ten years. Seonghwa wondered if he would have to wait that long before Hongjoong was that comfortable with him. He really hoped not.

“I like this one.”

Hongjoong had finally made his choice. Seonghwa stood beside him in front of the painting, trying to see what stood out about it. It was abstract, all blues and greens and myriad shades in between, swirls and splatters of color, bold lines and soft smears. It looked like a lot of the other paintings on display, but Seonghwa knew there had to be something special about it. 

“Why this one?” he asked finally.

“It just… fits,” said Hongjoong, shrugging. He looked at Seonghwa. “You don’t like it?”

“No, it’s great,” said Seonghwa. “We’ll take it.”

“You mean you will,” said Hongjoong, like the difference was very important. “You’ll take it.”

“Yes, fine,” said Seonghwa as he tried not to laugh. “I’ll take it.”

He handled the transaction, purchasing the painting and setting up a delivery time, while Hongjoong hovered in silence nearby. When he was done, he turned to Hongjoong and said, “Thank you.”

“You don’t need to thank me, it was fun,” said Hongjoong. He grinned. “So where to now?”

He didn’t want to go home. Seonghwa hadn’t planned this far ahead. “We could walk around outside, see the area,” he said. “Unless you think it’s really that boring.”

“I guess we could find out,” said Hongjoong.

There were people outside, more in their cars than on the sidewalk. Seonghwa and Hongjoong walked together, side by side, saying nothing. Seonghwa found his gaze going to Hongjoong’s face again and again, tracing his features, from the curves of his eyes down to the point of his nose. He was absolutely beautiful. He wondered if Hongjoong was fully aware of that, or if he should just blurt it out and tell him.

Hongjoong’s hand was there, right within reach, and Seonghwa was filled with the urge to take it, to feel the softness of his skin and lock their fingers together, until he found himself unable to think. He sought for something to say. 

“Why did you dye your hair red?” asked Seonghwa. 

“Oh,” said Hongjoong, hand going to his hair almost subconsciously. “Just felt like it. You should’ve seen me before. I was, like, blond, and San convinced me into growing a mullet.”

Seonghwa giggled. “Oh, my god.”

“Don’t judge!” said Hongjoong, affronted but grinning all the same. “I looked good.”

“I’m sure you did,” said Seonghwa, and he meant it. He chuckled and shook his head. “A mullet. Sounds like Sannie.”

“You think San’s bad? Yunho’s even worse,” said Hongjoong, still grinning. He stopped. “Do you know Yunho?”

“I know of him,” said Seonghwa. He saw the question in Hongjoong’s look and said, “Wooyoung met him.”

“Oh, yeah,” said Hongjoong. “That whole… thing.”

Seonghwa hummed, saying nothing. He knew Hongjoong didn’t exactly approve of Wooyoung and San’s relationship, and he tried not to think of the reason why. It brought up questions Seonghwa didn’t want to ask himself, or Hongjoong.

None of Seonghwa’s relationships could be called successful. It was true he dated humans, but that was not because of some type or preference as the others believed, but because there were so few vampires and he’d already decided he didn’t like the ones that might’ve liked him. Some of the humans he’d dated hadn’t known he was a vampire, which meant Seonghwa had had to end things when it became too difficult to explain his nocturnal lifestyle or when he realized they didn’t have a very friendly attitude to vampires. Others, like Youngjin, were the opposite. Vampire fetish, Jongho liked to say with a sneer, and Seonghwa had protested even though secretly he’d known Jongho was right. 

But Hongjoong wasn’t like that. He wasn’t drawn by the allure of the vampire mystery. If anything, it felt like he only tolerated Seonghwa’s vampirism. Being with a human like that, who knew he was a vampire but didn’t treat him like some fantastic creature because of it, was surreal to Seonghwa. 

Hongjoong had never asked Seonghwa to bite him and, disappointingly, Seonghwa had a feeling he never would.

“Look, hot dogs,” said Hongjoong. They had turned a corner onto a less posh street, and Hongjoong was visibly perked up.

“I see them,” said Seonghwa, noticing the stand a few feet away. “Do you want one?”

“Uh, is that okay with you?” asked Hongjoong uncertainly. “Since you can’t eat and all.”

“It’s fine,” said Seonghwa with a laugh. “Come on.”

They got one hot dog, Seonghwa pressing the money into the vendor’s hand before Hongjoong could protest. Hongjoong grumbled at that, but the snack was enough to make him happy again, and soon they were seated on a bench they found some ways down the street, Hongjoong happy and eating and Seonghwa happy just to be there. It was quieter by this stretch of road, quiet enough for him to hear even the sounds of Hongjoong’s chewing. 

“Are you sure this is okay?” asked Hongjoong, still unconvinced. 

“I told you, it’s fine,” said Seonghwa. 

“So this doesn’t, like, make you hungry or…?” Hongjoong trailed off.

“No, it doesn’t make me hungry,” said Seonghwa. Bloodthirst wasn’t hunger, not like he remembered it, but he wasn’t going to get into an explanation on that. “Besides, I’ve never had one so it’s not like I can miss it.”

“What?” Hongjoong’s eyes went huge. “You never had a hot dog?”

“Um, no,” said Seonghwa, taken aback by his surprise. “I turned before they became a thing, so.”

Hongjoong was silent, swallowing the information along with another bite of the hot dog. “So,” he said finally. “How old are you? If it’s okay to ask.”

“Twenty-one,” said Seonghwa, grinning.

“You know what I mean,” said Hongjoong, giving him a Look. It was adorable.

Seonghwa laughed. “Fine, fine,” he said. He paused, thinking it over. “I’m around… two hundred? Two fifty? Jeongjo was king when I was alive.”

Hongjoong’s mouth dropped open. He looked so shocked Seonghwa couldn’t help but laugh again. 

“You can’t be serious,” said Hongjoong when he was finally able to talk. “You can’t—you can’t be more than two hundred years old! How the fuck are you so normal?”

“I’m going to take that as a compliment,” said Seonghwa, still grinning.

“It’s just the truth,” said Hongjoong. “How are you… like this? Like, you act like a normal person my age? Shouldn’t you be acting old as fuck?”

“I don’t know, I just am,” said Seonghwa. “It’s something about turning, I guess. I am as mature—or as immature—as I was when I turned. Perhaps it’s something about knowing you’re no longer mortal. You don’t mature as you should.”

“That’s so weird,” said Hongjoong. He was still stunned, but there was fascination there too. “How did you… turn?” 

He said the last word in a stage whisper, and it brought a smile to Seonghwa’s face. “My maker turned me,” he said. “I was dying. I wasn’t rich, and I’d caught some fever that was consuming me, and Taehee-noona offered me life. I knew her from before, but I didn’t know she was a vampire until she explained the turning.”

“So then you turned,” said Hongjoong. “And then? What did you do for two hundred years?”

“I was with Taehee-noona,” said Seonghwa. “I didn’t meet the others until much later.”

“The others,” repeated Hongjoong. “Wooyoung, and…”

“Yeosang, Mingi, and Jongho,” said Seonghwa. “I met Yeosang and Wooyoung around twenty years ago. Then Jongho, about eight years after that. Mingi only joined five years ago. By vampire standards, our coven’s a baby.” He flashed Hongjoong a quick grin. 

“You guys really call it that?” Hongjoong gave a brief, awkward laugh. “San always calls you Wooyoung’s brother.”

“You prefer family?” asked Seonghwa. “Like the mafia?”

“Or like regular people, sure,” said Hongjoong.

But we’re not regular people. Seonghwa didn’t say that aloud though, instead saying, “Alright. But only Wooyoung and Yeosang are related by blood.” He caught Hongjoong’s look and added, “They have the same maker.”

“That’s a big deal, I guess,” said Hongjoong. He looked uncomfortable, like he didn’t like being reminded Wooyoung was a vampire. 

“It is,” said Seonghwa. “Turning isn’t just a physical process. A lot of vampires change emotionally, become more like their makers, especially if that’s what their makers want.” Not for the first time Seonghwa wondered what Jongho would have been like if Taehee had turned him, or maybe even Seonghwa himself—

“And yours?”

“Hmm?” Seonghwa tilted his head.

“Your maker,” said Hongjoong. “What was she like?”

Taehee? How could Seonghwa even begin to describe her? “She was everything,” he said earnestly. “Vibrant, and kind, and full of life. She was—she was the sun, and I was her beloved planet. She was so good. She took such good care of me.” He closed his eyes and leaned back, letting the softness of the memories of her flood him.

“I’m sorry,” murmured Hongjoong, his voice barely more than a whisper. “You must miss her a lot.”

“I do,” said Seonghwa. He opened his eyes, looking up at the blank sky. “I wish she were here. For me. For the others. They need her.”

“Did they know her?” asked Hongjoong gently.

“No, but they should have,” said Seonghwa. “They should have someone like her, someone to guide them, to take care of them.”

“They have you,” said Hongjoong, sounding confused. 

But Hongjoong didn’t understand. That was the worst, that all they had was him. “I’m—I’m not made for this,” said Seonghwa, trying to make Hongjoong understand. Seonghwa looked at him, at his furrowed brow and bright eyes. “I’m not a leader. I was nothing more than a—a spoiled kid, that’s all I ever was. And now I’m trying to make it work but I’m just not meant for it. They deserve better than me.”

“Hey, don’t say that,” said Hongjoong, frowning. “Who’s better than you for your own family?”

“Anyone,” said Seonghwa earnestly. “Taehee-noona. You.”

“That is not true,” said Hongjoong. “You know them better than anyone, don’t you? And they’re still with you. That counts for a lot.”

“I’m just…” Seonghwa closed his eyes a moment, trying to gather his thoughts. “I’m worried I’m not good enough.”

Not good enough to help Mingi. Not good enough to fix Jongho. Not good enough to keep them—

A soft touch fell on Seonghwa’s hand, light and gentle. Seonghwa opened his eyes and found Hongjoong looking at him, so sincerely, gaze holding his. His hand was over Seonghwa’s.

“I don’t really have a family like yours, but I think I understand,” said Hongjoong quietly. “You’ll always worry you’re not enough. When you have responsibility for someone, no matter how old they get, that feeling never really goes away. You just have to look at them, see how they are. Is your family happy, being with you?”

“They—yes,” said Seonghwa. He felt trapped in Hongjoong’s gaze, unable to escape.

“Then you’re doing fine,” said Hongjoong.

He squeezed Seonghwa’s hand. It was a small, brief thing, but it ignited sparks in Seonghwa, lighting him up in ways he didn’t think he’d ever felt before. He wondered if the glow in Hongjoong’s eyes reflected in his own.

“Come on, let’s go,” said Hongjoong. He slipped his hand off Seonghwa’s and stood up. “It’s getting late.”

Seonghwa was too overwhelmed to speak. He only nodded and rose.

They started the walk back to his car. Seonghwa looked at his hand, closing and opening his fingers. “Hongjoong-ssi,” he said quietly.

“Yeah?” said Hongjoong.

“Why did you choose that painting?” asked Seonghwa. 

Hongjoong was silent, long enough that Seonghwa had given up hope of him answering. “It suited you,” he said finally, looking forward. “The color is what I think of when I think of you. It was strong. Overwhelming in some places, but so—so gentle, so delicate in others. It fit like a song. I looked at it and I imagined a galaxy, or a nebula.” He turned to look at him. “You’re not just a planet, Seonghwa.”

Seonghwa was speechless. He only stared at Hongjoong, and kept staring until he felt the sting of tears in his eyes.

Hongjoong started, like he’d woken from his own trance, and hurriedly broke eye contact. “I mean…” He trailed off, cheeks and ears cherry red with embarrassment. 

And Seonghwa wanted to say something worthy of the words Hongjoong had said to him, but he had nothing. “Thank you,” he murmured, discreetly rubbing a tear out of his eye with a thumb. “For—for everything.”

“It’s nothing,” said Hongjoong, still avoiding his gaze.

But it was everything to Seonghwa. He dropped Hongjoong off near his apartment complex with a goodbye and a silent promise to meet again. Hongjoong smiled back at him, brighter than any star.

When the painting was delivered three nights later, Seonghwa had it hung in his bedroom on the wall opposite the bedstead, where he could look at it every dawn as the sun rose. 

Chapter Text

Hongjoong’s phone dinged with a notification. He knew who it was even before he looked at the screen.

park s.
why does yeosang wear socks inside the house?? his feet can’t get cold!!
what is the point!!

He could imagine Seonghwa’s voice saying the words, and it set a smile on his face. He sent a quick text back, asking why does it bother u so much?

park s.
because it makes no sense??
also he slides around the house like some sort of ice skater and i hate it 

Bc hes more graceful than you

park s.
no
yes
he’s lucky he’s so pretty or i would’ve slid him out of my house by now

For wearing socks inside the house

park s.
for disrespecting my floors

Hongjoong chuckled aloud. He was going to defend Yeosang—a vampire he’d never met and didn’t know at all—when Seonghwa sent another message.

park s.
you can wear socks inside if you want though

Im the exception?

park s.
there is a strict visual level you have to cross to win the privilege

Hongjoong read the message, blinked, and then felt heat explode in his face. He looked around to see if anyone noticed, but both Yunho and San were absorbed in their own phones, Yunho with a huge smile across his face, San giggling at his screen. Hongjoong’s phone dinged again.

park s.
please say something i feel awkward now

But what was Hongjoong supposed to say to that? He hesitated, sent back thanks and then immediately regretted it.

Another ding.

park s.
you’re welcome
now say something back

Hongjoong glanced around for anyone reading over his shoulder, like he wasn’t alone in the chair and Yunho and San weren’t sitting on the sofa. 

You can wear socks inside your house too

park s.
thank you

It might’ve been a sarcastic thank you, but Hongjoong didn’t think so. His reply hadn’t been sarcastic either. Seonghwa had mentioned more than once how beautiful Yeosang was, but Hongjoong doubted he could be that much better than Seonghwa. 

San squealed, startling Hongjoong so much he almost sent Seonghwa a string of A’s. “Can you not do that?” he asked. “You almost gave me a heart attack.”

“Sorry,” said San, not looking that sorry. “You know I can only text Wooyoung now. He’s asleep the entire day.” He grinned at Hongjoong. “You go text your boyfriend somewhere else.”

“I don’t—he isn’t—” Hongjoong sputtered, too stunned to speak, and ended up throwing the notepad on the table at San. San squawked and just managed to duck under it.  

“You attacked me!” cried San shrilly. “After all I did was mention your secret boyfriend—”

“I don’t have a secret boyfriend,” said Hongjoong, trying to ignore the burning in his face. He looked around for something else to throw. San squawked again and curled up in a ball in self-defense. 

“Hey, San,” said Yunho, poking him with a foot. 

San uncurled. “Hmm?”

“Wooyoung can’t wake up at all during the day?” asked Yunho. “Like, it’s not sleep, right, which he could drag himself out of.”

“I’m not really sure if it’s like sleep,” said San. “But they can wake up if they really try. For a few minutes. Wooyoung once woke up to reply to one of my texts.”

Yunho nodded, looking unusually pensive. 

“Why do you wanna know?” asked San. 

“Just curious,” said Yunho. 

He was curious like that so Hongjoong didn’t think too much of it, but he could see San peering at Yunho. Hongjoong was distracted by his phone receiving another text.

park s.
you should leave for work now

Hongjoong looked at the time and swore. He thanked Seonghwa again and slipped his phone in his pocket, getting to his feet. “I’m going to work,” he said. “Catch you guys later.”

“Hold up, hyung, I’ll go with you,” said Yunho, getting up. “I want to buy some snacks from the place downstairs.”

“Sure, but hurry,” said Hongjoong. “I don’t wanna be late again.”

They went down in the elevator in silence. It was only when they were leaving the cluster of buildings Yunho finally spoke. “Do you think vampires are dangerous?” he asked.

It was an unexpected question, and Hongjoong had to think on it. He’d never worried about Seonghwa hurting him or anyone else—the most he’d done was shoot a disdainful glare at a salesperson who’d sneered at Hongjoong—but Seonghwa wasn’t like the other vampires Hongjoong had seen. The ones in the club looked at humans like prey. They didn’t act, not like the vampire that had attacked Hongjoong in the back room, but they would if given the chance. 

“Not all of them,” he said finally.

Yunho nodded, satisfied with the vague answer. “You know,” he said, after some time, “if you do have a secret boyfriend, you have to tell me first.”

“I don’t,” said Hongjoong. He ignored the heat in his cheeks.

“Yeah, but if you do,” said Yunho, grinning, “you gotta tell me. If I find out you told San before me I’ll be super hurt.”

“Okay, I’ll remember that,” said Hongjoong. “How’s it going with that guy you met online?”

“I think it’s going good,” said Yunho. There was a bounce in his step, like there always was whenever the subject of this mystery guy came up. “I dunno. I’ve never done something like this before. But I think, yeah, it’s good.” He smiled at the empty air before him.

It was nice to see Yunho smile like that. “Just make sure he’s not a serial killer before you meet him,” said Hongjoong.

Yunho laughed. “He was scared of Aragog, hyung,” he said. “I don’t think he’s a serial killer.”

“I am so glad you found someone new to talk about your Harry Potter stuff with,” said Hongjoong. That made Yunho laugh again, and Hongjoong grinned. 

They split at the end of the road, Yunho turning left while Hongjoong walked straight for the bus stop. The bus came right on schedule, and Hongjoong got to work on time.

“Almost,” said Soyeon, grinning cheekily.

“But not quite,” Hongjoong shot back, triumphant.

It was his turn to man the counter, while Soyeon worked on arranging inventory and restocking shelves. Their mart was a small one, so the two of them were more than enough to handle the shift. Hongjoong was settled in his uncomfortable little stool by the register when his phone lit up with a message.

It was a picture of socked feet, with the caption the bane of my existence. Hongjoong grinned and sent back stop sending me feet pics im at work. Seonghwa immediately replied with a string of vomiting emojis.

“Who you talking to?”

Hongjoong jumped and quickly put his phone facedown on the counter. “A friend,” he said.

“The same friend you asked for Tuesday night off to see?” asked Soyeon.

She had a huge grin on her face, stretching from ear to ear. Hongjoong didn’t like that grin. It reminded him of San’s.

“He’s busy during the day,” he said.

“Okay,” said Soyeon, still grinning.

Hongjoong tried to busy himself with whatever he could find, but he couldn’t stop thinking about it. San and Yunho were both convinced Hongjoong had a boyfriend, and so was Soyeon. But Hongjoong didn’t have a boyfriend. He just had Seonghwa.

Seonghwa wasn’t his boyfriend. But he wasn’t just Hongjoong’s friend either. He was… complicated. The situation was complicated. When something bothered Hongjoong he’d talk to Yunho about it, but he couldn’t this time, because Seonghwa was San’s boyfriend’s brother and he was a vampire, and Hongjoong was trying to keep Yunho from getting mixed up with vampires. But it left Hongjoong alone, and he wasn’t sure how much more of this uncertainty he could take. 

“Soyeon,” said Hongjoong. “Can I talk to you about something?”

Soyeon, who’d been folding empty boxes to put away, immediately slid over. “I’m all ears,” she said. 

“Okay, so I have a friend,” said Hongjoong slowly.

“A friend?” Soyeon raised an eyebrow.

“A friend,” repeated Hongjoong. “Anyway, there’s this guy who likes him. The friend, I mean. And they’ve been kind of going… out… but they don’t do anything and they never talked about it or anything, so it’s… weird.”

“Wait, some guy likes your friend,” said Soyeon, rolling her eyes at the ‘friend’. “And they’ve been going on dates. What’s weird?”

“They’re not really dates,” said Hongjoong, awkward. “They’re like… outings. I dunno. Like, they don’t do stuff like—like holding hands or, uh, other things, but he knows he likes him—the guy kind of made it obvious—but my friend never, uh, said anything back? And they don’t really talk about it? They just… go out.”

“Let me get this straight,” said Soyeon. “Guy likes your friend. He made it obvious he likes him. Friend doesn’t say anything back but they keep going on outings or whatever the fuck you call it. Your friend is 100% sure he likes him?”

Hongjoong nodded.

“Sounds like your friend is stringing him along,” said Soyeon flatly.

“It’s not like that,” insisted Hongjoong. “It’s not like I don’t like him, there’s just a ton of stuff to consider—” He stopped dead as he realized what he’d just said.

Soyeon screeched. “I knew it!” she said, bouncing up and down. “I knew you had some guy you liked, I knew it —”

“Yes, okay, you were right,” grumbled Hongjoong. “There… there is a guy.”

“What’s he like?” asked Soyeon excitedly. “When did you meet? When did you start dating? Tell me everything.”

“We’re not dating,” said Hongjoong, shifting awkwardly. “I told you, there’s… stuff to consider.”

“Okay,” said Soyeon, settling down. “What kind of stuff?” 

He’s a vampire. “San is dating his younger brother,” said Hongjoong.

“Ooh, an older guy?” Soyeon waggled her eyebrows.

She had no idea. “Yeah,” said Hongjoong. “But it’s not—the age isn’t the problem, at least not a big one…”

“Then what? It’s that his brother’s dating San?” asked Soyeon. “Worried things are gonna get awkward if they break up?”

Hongjoong opened his mouth, and then closed it. He’d never considered that. What if San and Wooyoung broke up? It was what Hongjoong had been rooting for all this time, but what if it was a bad breakup? Wouldn’t it be weird? Would Seonghwa even want to see him after? 

“Seriously?” Soyeon’s tone was flat. “You never even thought about it? Then what’s the problem?”

The problem is that he’s a vampire. “It’s complicated,” said Hongjoong.

“Then un-complicate it,” said Soyeon. “Tell me.”

But Hongjoong couldn’t. He hesitated and squirmed until Soyeon finally sighed and raised her hands in defeat.

“Fine, fine, don’t tell me about your problem,” she said. She leaned forward with a glint in her eye. “Tell me about him.”

That, Hongjoong could do. “His name’s Park Seonghwa,” he said. “He’s… handsome. Tall, black hair, broad shoulders and long legs. His mouth is really pretty. He’s… fit, y’know, like lean built, not too big, but not skinny and…” He trailed off, seeing Soyeon grinning at him. “What?”

“Nothing,” she said, grinning like a shark. “Keep talking.”

“That’s it,” said Hongjoong, suddenly hot with embarrassment. 

“Show me a picture,” said Soyeon, still with that shark-like grin. “I wanna see what kind of mouth you’ve been thirsting over.”

“I—I’m not thirsting over—” Hongjoong tried to get the words out, flustered, and then gave up. There was no winning with Soyeon. He picked up his phone, navigated to the folder he saved Seonghwa’s pictures in—why he would have a folder only for Seonghwa’s pictures was no one’s business but his own—and found one he especially liked to show Soyeon. It was a selfie, Seonghwa reclined over the couch, one hand resting on his chest. The angle was tilted so that the picture cut off right below his eyes, but it showed off his collarbone under the two undone buttons of his shirt and the platinum ring on his left hand. He’d sent it to show off his new shirt.

Soyeon peered at the selfie awhile before looking back up at Hongjoong. “So he knows about your mouth kink?” 

Hongjoong choked. “I—oh, my god, it’s—it’s not—”

“Sure, whatever you say,” said Soyeon breezily. “Is that it? You don’t have any pictures of his entire face?”

“No, he… he always takes them like that,” said Hongjoong. 

He’d asked once why, when he’d felt bold, and Seonghwa had grinned. “It’s a vampire thing,” he’d said. “Our eyes don’t photograph right. I could ask Jongho to edit one of mine to look normal if you want?” He’d raised an eyebrow at the end of the offer, and Hongjoong had been so thrown by it he’d hurriedly refused.

“Oh, man, I won’t even be able to recognize him on the street,” said Soyeon, frowning. “Have I seen him before? Did he ever come see you at work and I didn’t notice you drooling over him?”

“No,” said Hongjoong, wishing he could throw something at her like he had at San. “He doesn’t come around here. It’s kind of far from his house.”

“Where does he live?” asked Soyeon. 

Hongjoong told her. Soyeon’s jaw dropped.

“Holy shit, Joong,” she said. “He’s rich.”

“Um, kind of,” said Hongjoong. For some reason talking about Seonghwa’s money made him uncomfortable.

“What kind of dates do you guys go on?” demanded Soyeon. “To, like, fancy restaurants? Does he pay for you too? He should if he’s loaded, dating or not.”

“We don’t eat out,” said Hongjoong. He gave her a brief recap of some of the nights he’d gone out with Seonghwa. Just the basic details, of course. She didn’t need to know Seonghwa arranged his nights around Hongjoong’s work, or that he kept an extra jacket in his car in case Hongjoong got cold, or that he always had candy on him because, as he so seriously said, “Humans need to keep their blood sugar up.” That didn’t feel necessary to get the point across. 

Soyeon listened with a flat look until he was done. “So he took you to buy jewelry,” she said finally.

“He had a problem with getting in the store,” said Hongjoong. “He just needed my help.”

“And he took you to pick out things for his house,” continued Soyeon, like Hongjoong hadn’t even spoken.

“It was a painting,” said Hongjoong quickly, “and he doesn’t know about art—”

“He took you cologne shopping,” said Soyeon.

“His sense of smell is nonexistent,” said Hongjoong. Literally. “He wanted my opinion.”

“Joong,” said Soyeon, looking him right in the eye. “These are dates. Doesn’t matter you never talked about it. He thinks they’re dates.”

“But we don’t do anything lovey-dovey,” said Hongjoong desperately. “I don’t think we ever even held hands.”

“Then he thinks you’re shy, or that you don’t like contact,” said Soyeon. “But, right now, you’re definitely dating.”

Hongjoong wanted to protest, but he had nothing. They did sound like dates. If they were normal people he would’ve said they were dating. But Seonghwa wasn’t a normal person. He was Seonghwa. Hongjoong still sometimes found it hard to believe Seonghwa was interested in him—he was so far below Seonghwa’s level it was almost laughable. And yet, here they were, Seonghwa actively arranging dates while Hongjoong was the one who pulled away in doubt.

“It’s up to you if you wanna tell him he’s wrong,” said Soyeon. 

“But… he…” Hongjoong shifted in his seat. He didn’t want to stop meeting Seonghwa. But he couldn’t date him. “He knows about my hangups,” he said finally, like that was an answer to his problem.

“And what are your hangups?” asked Soyeon with an exasperated sigh. “You obviously like him. You can’t even fool yourself about it, and you’re pretty good at that.” She stopped. “Is it about the brother? I know San always dates losers.”

“Wooyoung is… not bad,” said Hongjoong carefully. “He’s not a sleazeball, at least. He’s just not right for San.”

“What’s wrong with him?” asked Soyeon. “Not perfect like your precious Seonghwa?”

She said it teasingly, but she wasn’t wrong. Hongjoong trusted Seonghwa to never hurt anyone, not only San. He didn’t trust Wooyoung. Not because Wooyoung had done anything to earn the suspicion, but because he hadn’t done anything to earn the trust. 

“I’m worried he’s going to hurt San,” said Hongjoong eventually. “San was sneaking out to meet him, because he knew I wouldn’t like it. And he was right, I don’t like it.”

Soyeon laughed. “Are you kidding?” she said. “Your whole problem with your man is because you don’t wanna look like a hypocritical bitch in front of San?”

“That’s… not…” Hongjoong frowned. It wasn’t it. But how could he make Soyeon understand? Hongjoong wasn’t being a hypocrite, because his and San’s situations were completely different. Seonghwa wasn’t like Wooyoung. He wasn’t like anyone else.

“Well, whatever it is, good luck,” said Soyeon. “And if you’re really sure you don’t wanna date your guy, you should tell him as soon as you can. The longer you wait, the worse it’ll get.”

She was right, and Hongjoong knew it. “Thanks,” he said. 

“I don’t know how I helped,” said Soyeon. “You haven’t decided anything.”

“No, not really,” said Hongjoong. “Just… for the talk.”

“Happy to help.” Soyeon flashed a quick grin, and added, “And if you do break up and he’s interested in girls too, tell him me and Rina are always open to a third.” She winked.

Hongjoong laughed, and felt a bit lighter than before. 

 

By the end of a boring six hour shift, Hongjoong was more than ready to go home. He waited by the front of the store until Soyeon climbed on the back of her brother’s motorbike and rode off, and then he left for the bus stop. 

On the way Hongjoong found himself falling into the same thoughts he had ever since he’d met the vampires. He didn’t want San dating Wooyoung. But he didn’t want to stop meeting Seonghwa. But he didn’t want to date him either, that felt dangerous and like something he would regret—a tipping point on a balance he’d been dancing on for some time now. 

It was impossible for things to continue like this. San and Wooyoung might break up, or Seonghwa might get frustrated with Hongjoong’s lack of response, or any of a number of things. Hongjoong had to do something, he knew he did. But everything looked risky, like the smallest wrong move would send everything crashing down. Maybe there were no right moves. 

A light on the bridge caught his attention. Along the illuminated railing a street vendor sat on the path, a bright bulb hanging over a box of goods. Curious, Hongjoong went over.

The man was selling a mishmash of things, from dull decorations to jewelry to old cutlery. Hongjoong looked through them distractedly, until something caught his eye.

It was a bracelet. It glinted dully under the bulb, like old brass, one flat strip linked from end to end with a thin chain. There was a small stone set on one end of the flat band, a tiny drop of turquoise in the dull gold.

It wasn’t Hongjoong’s style. He didn’t like simple, understated jewelry like that, especially not in a bracelet. There wasn’t anything special or interesting about it.

But it looked a lot like the ring Seonghwa had bought the first time they’d gone out. Close enough to be in a set. Hongjoong didn’t like the bracelet very much, but perhaps— 

Before he could reconsider, he found himself picking the bracelet up and asking, “How much for this?”

It was reasonable and Hongjoong bought it without a second thought. He wasn’t sure why. He wasn’t going to give it to Seonghwa, obviously—it might give him the wrong idea. But Seonghwa would like it. Hongjoong thought he knew enough about him to know he would. He could imagine the smile that would bloom on his face, surprised maybe, but always sincere, his eyes sparkling with it. It would fit nicely on his wrist too. Hongjoong didn’t like admitting it, not even in his mind, but he’d spent more than a little time watching Seonghwa’s hands. 

He hesitated before he rose. “Does this have silver in it?” he asked the seller.

The man gave him a look. “You serious? Look at it, dude.”

“Yeah, but there’s lots of alloys that have small bits of silver in them,” said Hongjoong, refusing to get embarrassed. “Is this one of them?”

“How would I know?” said the seller with a shrug. “I don’t make the stuff, I just sell it.”

“Right,” said Hongjoong. He got up, cringing at the creak in his knees. “Thanks anyway.”

He slipped the bracelet in his jeans’ pocket as he walked, thinking. There couldn’t be that much silver in the bracelet anyway. But Seonghwa had flinched when Hongjoong had gone to return the silver half moon charm, and that wasn’t very big at all. But he had also kept it in his pocket that night at the park with nothing but a handkerchief as protection, and he hadn’t seemed too bothered by it. Had he been pretending to put Hongjoong at ease? It would be like Seonghwa. He did so many things to make Hongjoong comfortable. 

The ring of his phone cut through Hongjoong’s thoughts. He frowned as he reached into his pocket for it. Yunho and San should have been asleep by now, unless San had gone out to see Wooyoung. In which case San wouldn’t contact him unless he needed his help…

It wasn’t San, or Yunho. It was Seonghwa.

Hongjoong picked up. “Hello?” 

“Hongjoong-ssi, hi,” said Seonghwa. “Just wanted to know what you were doing.”

“I thought you memorized my schedule by now,” said Hongjoong, trying to sound reproachful and only coming off pleased.

“Okay, yes, I did,” admitted Seonghwa. “Naturally. Not in a creepy way. I have a good memory.”

“Really?” said Hongjoong, grinning. “That artist whose painting you bought, what’s their name?”

“Um… uh…” There was a rustling on the line, and then Seonghwa said, “Damn it, they didn’t sign the painting. How am I supposed to know?” 

Hongjoong laughed. “Okay, Mr. Good Memory,” he said. “Why’d you call?”

“Just,” said Seonghwa innocently. “I know you just got off work. Are you in the bus yet?”

“On the way to the stop,” said Hongjoong. 

A hum. “It’s pretty late.”

“It’s barely past one a.m,” said Hongjoong. “That’s not late. Not in Seoul.”

“That is pretty late,” said Seonghwa. “I could just drop you home, you know, I’m not busy and it’s not a bother.”

“You live on the other side of the city.”

“I’ll leave the house early.”

“What are you worried about?” asked Hongjoong, trying not to laugh. “Do you think I’ll get kidnapped or something?”

“It’s possible,” said Seonghwa seriously. “Humans get kidnapped all the time. Half the shows on TV are about murder cases, Hongjoong-ssi.”

“Those are TV shows, Seonghwa,” said Hongjoong. He didn’t even try not to laugh anymore. “I’m not going to get kidnapped. Who’d wanna kidnap me? I’m a grown man walking in a public place.”

“Can you just hurry up and get inside the bus already?” asked Seonghwa, sounding annoyed. 

“Geez, I’m getting there,” said Hongjoong. “You can nag me when I get home.”

“I’m here actually concerned for your wellbeing, and you mock me,” said Seonghwa in fake indignation. Or it might’ve been real indignation.

Hongjoong grinned. “If I don’t text you in fifteen minutes, I’ve been kidnapped and all my organs are being sold on the black market.”

“Oh, my god, don’t even joke about that—”

“Bye, Seonghwa,” said Hongjoong, and then he ended the call, laughing gleefully.

He picked up his pace as he got off the bridge. He’d already decided he’d text Seonghwa in sixteen minutes. Just to make sure his nonfunctioning heart really didn’t give out.

Hongjoong slipped his hand in his pocket, feeling for the bracelet. He kept walking, smile on his face.

Chapter Text

Wooyoung smelled sweet.

It wafted around him wherever he went, so strong you could imagine it rolling off him in waves. It was the delicious, alluring smell of an especially appetizing human. It was the smell of San’s blood.

“Geez, hyung, can you go somewhere else?” said Jongho, making a face as he curled up on the couch. “You’re making me hungry.”

“Sorry,” said Wooyoung, not sorry at all. “You’re too dramatic anyway. I smell fine, don’t I, Yeosangie?”

Yeosang forced a smile. “Sure.”

“See? Perfectly fine,” said Wooyoung, satisfied. He didn’t notice the smile was fake. He didn’t notice a lot about Yeosang recently.

“Then go over there,” said Jongho, poking Wooyoung with a foot.

Wooyoung grumbled about Jongho being mean and disrespectful, but got up anyway. Yeosang was stretched out on the long couch, tablet resting on his chest, and when Wooyoung walked over he curled up his legs to give him space. Wooyoung ignored it and lay down flat over Yeosang.

“Fuck, you’re heavy,” groaned Yeosang, but he let Wooyoung get comfortable.

“All you guys do is hurt me,” said Wooyoung. He rested his head on Yeosang’s chest, legs entangled with his, and fell still.

The smell of San was all over him. But it didn’t make Yeosang hungry, it made him sick. He knew Wooyoung fed from San regularly, which he understood—San smelled incredible, even he could admit that. But it wasn’t all feeding. San’s smell clung to Wooyoung for hours, attaching to him from what must’ve been lots of close contact. They were together a lot.

Discreetly, Yeosang rubbed his cheek against the crown of Wooyoung’s head, hoping some of his own scent would attach to Wooyoung. Vampires’ scents weren’t as strong as humans’, but they did exist.

Yeosang missed Wooyoung’s scent. His real scent, that mild, familiar fragrance that barely traveled in the air, that scent he could get only when they were close together like this. Slowly, carefully, he rested his hand on Wooyoung’s back. Wooyoung didn’t stir.

They had known each other for almost a century, but to Yeosang it felt both longer and shorter than that. In the hardest time of his life, Wooyoung was the only love and comfort he had known, and Wooyoung would remain Yeosang’s greatest love until he was taken by his second death.

Seonghwa came down the stairs, fully dressed for the outside in a stylish wool coat. “I’m going out for a few hours,” he said, as he picked out a pair of shoes. “Don’t destroy the house while I’m gone.”

“Another date?” asked Jongho. “Don’t you think you’re a little too into this new guy already?”

“It’s not a date,” said Seonghwa, stepping into a pair of black boots. “I need a human nose for something.”

“Uh-huh,” said Jongho. “You didn’t answer my second question.”

“Okay, I’ll see you guys when I get back,” said Seonghwa brightly. “Bye.” He was out the door so fast he might’ve teleported.

“He can’t just ignore every question he doesn’t like,” said Jongho, more to himself than anyone else. “He spends so much time on this new human.”

Yeosang smiled sympathetically. Jongho, of all of them, knew the dangers of getting attached to the wrong person. “Just let him be,” he said. “You know you can’t stop him when he falls for his newest human.”

Jongho frowned. “He’s going to get hurt.”

“Maybe a little,” said Yeosang. Seonghwa had never been good at picking humans. “Then he’ll get over it and be back to normal. He might even learn something from it this time.”

Jongho didn’t look convinced, but he let it go, picking up his phone again.

Yeosang looked back up at the ceiling and released a silent sigh. Seonghwa had some strange attachment to life. He was always chasing after humans, desiring their friendship or their love, trying his best to fit in. He forced himself to stay awake after dawn to watch the sun for as long as he could bear. He was so attached to living things and Yeosang, for all his sympathetic nature, could not understand what he was looking for.

Yeosang had been a vampire many, many years. But he never missed the sun, because he had Wooyoung.

He still remembered the night, so many decades ago, when their maker had still been alive and Wooyoung had just overcome the newborn thirst. Yeosang had been a vampire for more than a year by then, and he had finally gathered the courage to ask Jisung why he had turned Wooyoung, why Yeosang wasn’t enough anymore.

“Oh, Yeosang, I love you,” Jisung had said, fond smile on his face. “But you are the moon, and Wooyoung is the sun.”

At that time, Yeosang hadn’t understood. He’d been bitter, and miserable. He understood now. Yeosang was lovely, but he was cold. Wooyoung was brighter and hotter than life itself. Jisung had needed both of them to balance, two sons so different and yet so close.

Yeosang missed Jisung sometimes, but on the whole he was happier in his new life. He had a bigger coven, a more comfortable house and a stable supply of blood, and, most importantly, he still had Wooyoung.

“I still have him,” he murmured to himself, so quiet not even Wooyoung heard. “I still do.”

Wooyoung’s phone rang, and he maneuvered himself to get it out of his pocket, stabbing Yeosang in the gut with an elbow as he did so. Yeosang got a clear look at the screen before Wooyoung picked up.

“Hey baby,” said Wooyoung, voice sweet like honey. “Busy at work?”

Of course. Who else would it be? Yeosang tried to focus on the book he’d been reading, tune out the half of conversation he could hear.

“Mmm, no, I didn’t miss you,” said Wooyoung, in that mischievous way he did so well. “Why, did you miss me?”

Jongho gagged. Yeosang allowed himself a chuckle at that, before trying to focus on what he was supposed to be reading.

Wooyoung didn’t notice either of them. “Well, I didn’t,” he said. “Shouldn’t you be working? This is why your boss is so mean to you.” Silence, a hum, and then Wooyoung burst out, “What? Again? Give me his address, I’ll go beat him up.”

He stabbed Yeosang again in his excitement, and Yeosang stifled a groan. He poked Wooyoung to no effect.

“I’ll definitely beat him up,” said Wooyoung seriously. “I’ll go beat up his friends and family too. Okay, maybe not his family… wait, does he have a dog?” A hum. “Well I can’t beat up the dog, that’s just inhuman…” A huge smile broke on his face. “You know what I mean! It’s the principle of the thing.”

Yeosang moved to the next page of his book. He hadn’t finished the last one.

“I’m home,” said Wooyoung. “Mingi’s upstairs, Seonghwa-hyung went out. I’m lying down right on top of Yeosangie.” He hummed. “Yeah he’s kind of skinny… well if you wanted me to be comfortable maybe you should’ve been here—”

Yeosang got up. Wooyoung almost fell off the sofa and called out a hurt “Hey!” but Yeosang ignored him and walked away. He didn’t want to be around Wooyoung right then.

He got to the top of the stairs before he stopped. Yeosang felt unsettled, a feeling deep in his chest, like something burrowing in the space between his ribs. He hated how he couldn’t pinpoint the feeling, how he couldn’t pull it out like a knife.

“Hyung?”

Yeosang brought himself back to his surroundings. Jongho was coming up the stairs, a look of concern on his face.

“Everything okay?” he asked.

“Fine,” said Yeosang. He put up a smile. “Just got tired of Wooyoung and his sickly sweetness.”

“Yeah, same,” said Jongho. He hesitated. “Hey, so, do you know who Seonghwa-hyung’s dating?”

“No,” said Yeosang.

“Okay,” said Jongho. “Because he usually tells us all about whoever he’s seeing… I thought maybe he was just hiding it from me.”

“He isn’t,” said Yeosang. He had noticed Seonghwa being unusually secretive about this new lover, but had chalked it up to him wanting to avoid being teased. “Why would he hide it from you?”

“Yeah, exactly,” said Jongho with a laugh. “Why me? I mean, I understand why he wouldn’t tell Mingi-hyung, he’s a freak, but I’m okay, right?”

Yeosang regarded him coldly. “I know you use Mingi to deflect, so I’ll let that go,” he said. “But know that if Seonghwa-hyung hears you he won’t be so kind.”

Jongho didn’t respond, but he looked chastised. Yeosang didn’t know how genuine that look was.

“Seonghwa didn’t tell anyone,” said Yeosang, hoping it would be enough to convince the younger. “Not me, or Wooyoung, at least.”

Which really was strange. He usually wasn’t able to contain his excitement, no matter how he tried. If Yeosang didn’t know better he’d think Seonghwa actually had done the stupidest thing and gone after that short friend of San’s. But that was impossible, because Wooyoung would’ve known, and so Yeosang would’ve too.

The door halfway down the hallway slammed open, and Mingi burst out of the room. “Yeosang, shit, thank god you’re here,” he said. “I need your help.”

“For what?” asked Yeosang.

“You remember I told you about the friend I made online?” asked Mingi. “I was trying to come up with a reason why I couldn’t talk during the day, and you said I should say I’m sick?”

Yeosang did remember that. “What’s the problem?”

“He’s asking about my sickness,” said Mingi. “What should I say?”

“Do some research,” said Yeosang. “Find something that fits. You’re online all the time, use that time for something useful.”

“Something useful like lying to your human friend,” said Jongho.

“At least I have friends,” shot back Mingi. He turned back to Yeosang. “Thanks for nothing, I guess.”

“You’re welcome,” said Yeosang. “If you need to, you can say the medicine makes you sleep, not the sickness.”

Mingi nodded, openmouthed, impressed. “Thanks, you’re a lifesaver,” he said. He stuck out his tongue at Jongho and went back to his room.

Yeosang sighed fondly. They were children, all of them in different ways.

“I can’t believe everyone’s just going and getting themselves a human,” grumbled Jongho. “I should start looking for one too.”

“Please don’t join them,” said Yeosang seriously. “If you leave me alone I’ll move out.”

Jongho laughed. “Why would you be alone?”

Because Wooyoung— Yeosang stopped the thought before it went too far. “Just don’t do it,” he said. Jongho shrugged at that.

“I’m going out!” Wooyoung called from downstairs. He didn’t have to say where. Any time he went out nowadays it was to see San.

“He’s, like, addicted to him,” said Jongho, as they heard the front door close. “I’m surprised he isn’t tired of him yet. I thought it would be time by now.”

Yeosang said nothing. That feeling in his chest was back, and he couldn’t dig it out.

Wooyoung was out for most of the night, but when he came back he went to Yeosang’s room. Yeosang lay still, pretending to sleep, wanting to avoid Wooyoung, avoid the thought of Wooyoung spending all his time with San.

“You’re the worst,” grumbled Wooyoung, climbing into bed next to him. “Ignoring me? Your best friend in the entire world? Horrible.”

“I’m sleeping,” said Yeosang, fighting the smile on his face.

“You talk pretty well in your sleep,” said Wooyoung.

He lay with his back pressed against Yeosang’s, and miraculously fell silent. Yeosang relaxed for the first time since Wooyoung had left, uneasy feeling dissipating.

 

Yeosang smelled him before anything else.

Wooyoung was back home early tonight, smiling brightly. The smile suited him, filled out his features, lit them up with his sunlight. He was not alone.

“Sannie, it’s been a while,” said Seonghwa, smiling, getting up to take the human into a hug. “I’m so happy to see you again.”

“You too, hyung,” said San. He turned to Yeosang and smiled. “Hi, Yeosang-ssi.”

Yeosang mumbled a greeting back.

“You don’t need to be so polite,” said Wooyoung, as Seonghwa went to get Jongho to greet their guest. “It’s just Yeosangie.”

“I’m being nice and you’re criticizing me,” said San. He’d naturally latched onto Wooyoung’s arm again, and was squeezing it. “You were polite with Hongjoong-hyung. You kind of looked scared of him.”

“Why would I be scared of him?” scoffed Wooyoung. “He should be afraid of me! I could kidnap you and steal you away.”

San gave Yeosang a look. “He was totally scared of him.”

By this time Jongho had come downstairs. They all gathered in the living room, scattered among the many seats. Seonghwa had procured food from somewhere, setting an assortment of snacks in front of San.

“We just came from the movies, hyung,” said Wooyoung. “San had a million buckets of popcorn. He’s fine.”

“So?” said Seonghwa. “That doesn’t mean I’m going to let him be in my house without offering something. Some of us have manners, Wooyoung.”

Wooyoung grumbled and made a face at Seonghwa, and Yeosang smiled.

The conversation flowed, eventually turning to seniority. San didn’t understand why Jongho called Mingi hyung.

“Because he turned when he was older than me,” said Jongho.

“But you turned first, so technically you’re older,” said San.

“Technically, sure,” said Jongho, shrugging. “I don’t mind. It’s kind of fun being the youngest.”

“Jongho was nineteen when he turned,” said Seonghwa. “Mingi was twenty, like Wooyoung and Yeosang.”

“So he says,” said Yeosang. “We don’t really know and I think he just wanted to be our age.”

San nodded, understanding. “You know, I’m twenty-one,” he said, grinning mischievously. “So shouldn’t you all call me hyung?”

“Vampires only,” said Yeosang, while Wooyoung cackled.

“I’ll call you hyung,” said Seonghwa. “San-hyung, please take me out. I wanna go to an amusement park, and hyung please help me figure out what to do with our household budget—”

San yelled and covered his ears. “I change my mind, I change my mind!”

“Fine, fine, I’ll let you go this time,” said Seonghwa. He sighed dramatically. “When will someone actually help me with the budget?”

“I regret helping you all this time,” said Jongho, making Seonghwa laugh.

“You own the money, you take care of it,” said Yeosang. “If you didn’t want to do it, you shouldn’t have gotten turned by a rich person.”

“You and Wooyoung have the same maker, right?” asked San. “What happened to him?”

“Killed by vampire hunters,” said Yeosang. He saw the look on San’s face and said, “Don’t. It was a long time ago and frankly speaking I didn’t love him that much. He was just our maker.”

“I didn’t know there were vampire hunters,” said San. “No one ever talks about them.”

“Because they don’t really exist anymore,” said Seonghwa. “The government back then condoned it, so wannabe vampire hunters were everywhere, killing whoever they could find.”

“That’s terrible,” said San. He squeezed Wooyoung’s arm. “Why didn’t anyone do anything about it?”

“Well we couldn’t really go to the police,” said Seonghwa with a sad smile. “I know a lot of the hunters died when vampires fought back. A lot of innocent people did too. They just got caught up in it.”

“The hunting went on until a new government came in,” said Wooyoung. “They didn’t like it, so they made the hunters stop. But a lot of vampires were already dead by then. Our maker Jisung was one of them.”

“I’m so sorry,” said San, drawing Wooyoung in closer, comforting him.

“It’s cool, it’s like Yeosangie said,” said Wooyoung with a shrug. “It was a long time ago and I don’t miss him that much. Me and Yeosang are still alive, that’s what matters.” He looked at Yeosang, and Yeosang returned the look with a weak smile.

“That got depressing real fast,” said Jongho. “Let’s talk about something else.”

They decided to play a game at Seonghwa’s insistence. After a half hour of arguments and counterarguments, charades was chosen.

“What about Mingi?” asked San, as Jongho went to dig out the box of cards.

“What about him?” asked Wooyoung.

“He should play too,” said San. “We shouldn’t leave him alone while we all play together.”

Wooyoung and Seonghwa exchanged looks. “He can’t come down, baby, you know that,” said Wooyoung.

“He doesn’t need to come down to play,” said San. “Seriously, were you all born a hundred years ago?”

They set up a video call on Seonghwa’s laptop. Mingi had agreed but he looked nervous now, sitting on his bed, avoiding eye contact. His eyes were disconcerting even to Yeosang, but San didn’t seem to mind.

“It’s great to finally meet you,” he said brightly.

“Yeah, you too,” said Mingi. He gave a nervous smile.

He forgot about most of his nerves as the game started. The five of them made themselves comfortable around the living room. Yeosang found himself on the sofa beside San, Wooyoung on San’s other side. San was bubbling with excitement and had his hand on Yeosang’s knee apparently subconsciously. Yeosang didn’t bother with getting him to remove it.

Seonghwa got first turn by rights of age (“Old man,” said Wooyoung gleefully, and was rewarded with a threatening look from Seonghwa) and picked the first card to act out. Jongho guessed the right answer (“Pizza!” he yelled in his impressive low register and Seonghwa jumped up and down and cheered) and got the next turn, and from him it went to San. Then back to Jongho, and then finally to Yeosang.

San squeezed Yeosang into a hug after he guessed right, and Yeosang only sat still and accepted it. It bothered him that San seemed genuinely fond of him while Yeosang was just… not. He didn’t understand why. San was sweet and considerate and warm. But Yeosang just couldn’t like him.

He got up and picked a card. Salad. Yeosang sighed and said, “Why food again? We don’t even eat.”

“Foul!” yelled Mingi. “He gave a hint! He’s out!”

“He’s not out,” said Wooyoung. He glared at the laptop sitting on the table next to him. “Say that again and I’ll end the call on you.”

Mingi gasped. “Seonghwa-hyung, did you hear that?”

“I’m the oldest hyung here and I agree with Wooyoung,” said San. “Yeosang, your turn.”

“Yeosang-hyung is so bad at charades though,” said Jongho.

“What? I’m great at it,” said Yeosang, affronted. “If you can’t get the answers it’s a you problem.” San and Wooyoung both laughed.

Yeosang tried to focus on the game, but it was difficult, with Wooyoung and San sitting right there in front of him, attached to each other. They were both in high spirits, arms linked, San nearly climbing onto Wooyoung’s lap. Yeosang focused on the wall behind them and got to work. He got as far as showing a bowl before the guesses started coming in—different types of soup was the most popular guess, until Seonghwa said cereal and then everyone started guessing types of cereal—and he started losing patience. He tried showing tongs and made Mingi guess skewers (which got him deservedly teased). Finally, as a last idea, he mimed tossing the salad in the bowl.

“Salad?” tried San.

Yeosang clapped once and nodded, satisfied. San cheered and jumped up, pulling Yeosang into a tight hug and nearly lifting him off his feet.

“How the hell was that salad?” grumbled Jongho. “Salad, my ass.”

“Wait a second,” said Seonghwa, sitting up. “Wooyoung, did you tell San the answer?”

“What? No,” said Wooyoung, with that high-pitched laugh that meant he was lying.

Pandemonium broke out. Jongho booed, while Mingi yelled, “Red card! Red card! Blood bond cheating, that’s a red card!” Seonghwa started chanting, “Wooyoung out, Wooyoung out, Wooyoung out—”

“Hold up,” said San, cutting through the shouting. “Even if Wooyoung did tell me—which he didn’t—how is that cheating? It’s not like Yeosang told me!”

“Wooyoung isn’t allowed to answer Yeosang’s questions, or vice versa,” said Seonghwa. “Blood bond. It’s an unfair advantage.”

“So it’s like telepathy?” asked San, eyes widening. “Cool.”

“No, it’s not,” said Wooyoung. “And I don’t see how it’s an unfair advantage! I just know Yeosang better than you guys do! Just because I’ve known him for a long time means I can’t answer when it’s his turn? How is that fair?”

“It is an unfair advantage,” argued Jongho, while Seonghwa went back to chanting. “Blood bonds matter a lot.”

“Just kick Wooyoung out of the game, problem solved,” said Mingi.

“I swear Mingi I will close this stupid laptop—”

The ring of Seonghwa’s phone cut off Wooyoung’s empty threat. He glanced at the screen, and said, “Sorry, I have to take this.” He got up and left the room, going halfway up the stairs before he even picked up.

Yeosang noticed Jongho’s eyes on the stairway. “Leave him be,” he said.

“Are you sure he didn’t say anything?” asked Jongho.

“He didn’t,” said Yeosang firmly. It had been years since Jongho had joined the coven, and yet the smallest thing sent him careening into the fear of being excluded or abandoned.

“Is this about Seonghwa-hyung?” asked Mingi. “Do you want me to, like, eavesdrop up here?”

“Like you could,” said Wooyoung. “You’d get caught in three seconds.”

“What’s up with Seonghwa-hyung?” asked San. He went back to the sofa, tucking himself in under Wooyoung’s arm.

“Nothing,” said Yeosang, before Wooyoung could answer. San wasn’t in their coven, he didn’t need to know.

“Just being a little weird,” said Wooyoung. He buried his nose in San’s hair, and Yeosang felt his gut twist. “He’ll get over it.”

“As long as he’s okay,” said San. He stretched, putting his arms over his head, and his loose sleeves slipped down past his elbows.

There were bite marks on his forearm.

Two small pinpoints, still bumpy but already fading. The sight of them drained Yeosang of whatever happiness he might’ve had. It wasn’t sudden, but it wasn’t slow either, and it left Yeosang feeling like he was empty, a husk standing upright on its feet. He knew Wooyoung fed from San, he knew that, it was obvious and Wooyoung had said it himself, the smell of San’s blood was on him all the time, but—

There were bite marks on Yeosang in the same place, but those would never fade.

“Hey, are you okay?”

It was Wooyoung. He was quieter than usual, soft concern on his face. But he still had his arm around San, still held San close. All he did was look at Yeosang.

“Fine,” said Yeosang, and it sounded like a lie, even to himself. “I need to check on something.”

He went to the kitchen, because he couldn’t be in the room any longer and he didn’t risk seeing Seonghwa and being asked if he was okay. Because Yeosang wasn’t okay, and he didn’t know why.

The kitchen was brightly lit, immaculately clean. Yeosang leaned against the counter and found that he was breathing, taking down breaths he didn’t need anymore. The action was calming.

He rolled up his left sleeve, ran his fingers over his forearm. His skin was peppered with bite marks. Most were concentrated in the same area, failed attempts at marking his skin less. He had more on his other arm, on his upper arm, one in the shoulder, so many he couldn’t remember when he’d gotten them all.

Vampires could heal from any injury, any poison, except vampire venom.

It had been a scary, desperate time. Vampire hunters crawled over Seoul, ready to kill any vampire they found. And they found so many. Jisung was already dead, and the secret haunts they visited got less crowded with every passing night, until the places disappeared and all the vampires scattered to the wind.

Rich, well-connected vampires like Seonghwa could talk about the hunters like nothing more than an inconvenience. For Yeosang and Wooyoung it had been life and death.

Every day was dangerous. Most nights they stayed indoors, in whatever abandoned building they could find, hiding away as sunrise approached and hoping they wouldn’t be found in the daytime. The only time they went out was to feed, prey on whatever foolish human walked the dark streets alone, drink as much as they dared before disappearing. It was too sporadic, too brief. There was never enough blood.

Yeosang had been terrified Wooyoung would die. And so he had given him whatever blood he could.

It wasn’t as good as human blood, but it made Wooyoung stronger. Kept him alive. He needed it more, Yeosang had reasoned, because he was younger and more active. The truth was Yeosang simply couldn’t bear to see him suffer, see him turn weak and then manic with thirst, until he got careless and got himself killed.

So Yeosang let Wooyoung feed on him, let him leave marks on him that would never fade, and they survived. Now they were happy, and comfortable, with a beautiful house and freedom to feed whenever they wanted and a sort of family that adored them.

And now Wooyoung left marks on other people.

“But his will fade,” murmured Yeosang aloud. “His will, and mine won’t.”

He went back to the living room, where everything was just as he’d left it. Seonghwa walked in right after him, phone in hand and looking slightly distressed.

“Sannie, why aren’t you picking up your phone?” he asked.

“Huh?” San frowned, confused, and dug out his phone. He swore. “I forgot to take it off silent when we got out of the movie. Oh, shit, Hongjoong-hyung called me a billion times.”

“Yeah,” said Seonghwa. He held out his phone to San.

San’s eyes widened. “He got your number so that he could keep tabs on me?” He took the phone from Seonghwa and walked off, yelling into it, “Oh, my god, hyung, this is way too much—”

Seonghwa looked embarrassed, and only shrugged when Wooyoung gave him a questioning look. But Yeosang wasn’t fooled so easily. “Hyung, can I talk to you for a moment?” he asked.

They went to the kitchen, but this time Yeosang didn’t need the support of the countertop. “Are you fucking insane?” he asked flatly.

“That’s kind of hurtful,” said Seonghwa. “What are you talking about?”

“San’s friend,” said Yeosang. “The red-haired one. He’s the one you’ve been seeing.”

Seonghwa froze. “That’s not—”

“Don’t fucking lie to me,” hissed Yeosang. “Why would you leave the room to answer his call if he was just keeping tabs on San?”

Seonghwa hesitated, opened his mouth and closed it, shifted on the spot and glanced around. “You can’t tell Wooyoung,” he said finally.

“Like hell I won’t tell Wooyoung,” said Yeosang. “I’m telling him and everyone else.”

“You can’t,” said Seonghwa, and fuck, he actually looked desperate. “Hongjoong doesn’t want anyone to know.”

Of course he doesn’t. “And you don’t care why?” asked Yeosang.

No answer. Seonghwa avoided eye contact like a disobedient child.

“You need to stop seeing him,” said Yeosang. “For your own good.”

“What? Why should I?” demanded Seonghwa.

“He hates Wooyoung,” said Yeosang flatly. “He hates that Wooyoung is dating his precious San. You never stopped to think about why?”

Seonghwa hesitated. “He’s protective…”

“Bullshit,” said Yeosang. “He hates vampires. That’s why he can’t stand Wooyoung dating San. I don’t know what he’s playing at dating you, but I know he hates us.”

“He doesn’t hate me,” insisted Seonghwa.

Yeosang didn’t address the fact that Seonghwa was willing to overlook Hongjoong’s distrust of Wooyoung to justify dating him. Instead he said, “You think you’re the exception. I’m sorry hyung, but people like that, they don’t have exceptions.”

“You don’t know Hongjoong hates us,” said Seonghwa. “You’ve never even talked to him.”

“Not really, no,” said Yeosang. “But it’s obvious, and you know it too. That’s why he’s trying to hide whatever you got going on.”

“No, that’s not…” But Seonghwa looked uncertain. “It’s… Wooyoung and San…”

They were back to the same point, and Seonghwa still refused to understand. “Hyung,” said Yeosang calmly, gently. “Please. You’re going to break your heart.”

Seonghwa stared at Yeosang, and then averted his eyes. But it was too late. Yeosang could see it. Seonghwa was scared Yeosang was right.

“Does he know?” asked Yeosang.

“Does he know what?” muttered Seonghwa, still looking away.

“That it was Jongho who fed from him at the club,” said Yeosang.

Seonghwa swallowed. “No.”

Yeosang closed his eyes. Oh, Seonghwa really was a fool. “I can’t stop you,” he said finally. “And I won’t tell Wooyoung or anyone else. But I really hope you’ll reconsider this, for your own sake.”

“Thank you, Yeosang,” said Seonghwa, and he looked so relieved it hurt. “I know what I’m doing.”

But he didn’t. He thought he did but he didn’t, which is why Seonghwa always got hurt. So many humans, so many heartbreaks, and yet he kept going back for more. Yeosang just didn’t understand.

They returned to the living room, where San was putting on his coat. “I need to get home before he pops a blood vessel or something,” he grumbled. “I’m so sorry, Seonghwa-hyung. He’s too much.”

“It’s alright,” said Seonghwa. “He just cares about you.”

“Yeah, but calling you?” San frowned. “I’m really sorry. And for bailing in the middle of your game too.”

“It’s cool, you only won one round,” said Mingi.

“That’s one more than you, egghead,” said Wooyoung. He turned back to San. “Should I take you home?”

“No, it’s still early,” said San. He smiled. “You can walk me to the gate, though.”

“Of course,” said Wooyoung, smiling back. Of course. Yeosang wasn’t surprised.

San said goodbye to all of them, hugging Seonghwa, telling Mingi how happy he was to finally talk to him. He smiled at Yeosang, and Yeosang smiled back. And then he walked out the front door, Wooyoung with him.

Everyone naturally scattered after that. Mingi turned off the video chat, probably to get back to his online games. Jongho stretched out over the couch with his phone. Seonghwa went upstairs to his bedroom.

And Yeosang went to his. He went to his room and stood in front of the window, not knowing what he was doing, driven by a compulsion he couldn’t name. Wooyoung and San were by the front gate, talking and laughing and enjoying each other’s company. From his bedroom window Yeosang got a perfect view of them, so clear he could imagine himself standing right before them.

Wooyoung looked luminous in the moonlight. The way the light caught his hair, his laughing features, the way shadows fell over him as he buried his face in San’s neck. San was laughing too, his face scrunched up in delight and hands at Wooyoung’s shoulders, but Yeosang barely paid him any attention. Wooyoung was like a magnet, a black hole, sucking Yeosang in. He looked so happy. So happy with San, and Yeosang didn’t understand why.

Why San? What was so special about San? Why was it San who made Wooyoung smile like that, laugh like that? It was Yeosang who Wooyoung had known for so long, it was Yeosang who had been with him and cared for him for decades. Yeosang was the one Wooyoung had promised to live with and die with. So why did Wooyoung want San? Why did he hold him like that, kiss him like that? Why didn’t he—why didn’t he want—

Realization hit Yeosang like a physical blow to the chest.

All at once, everything made sense. The unsettled feeling that had taken up residence in his ribcage, why even the thought of San felt like an itch on his skin. Why he hated it when Wooyoung talked to San, or went out with him, or smiled when he talked about him. Why Yeosang could never like San.

Without warning, Wooyoung looked up and at Yeosang’s bedroom. Yeosang darted out of sight, pressing his back to the wall beside the window and willing himself to be calm. After a minute he risked a look outside, and saw that San was getting into a car, saying his last goodbyes to Wooyoung. They kissed, brief, sweet. Wooyoung turned to get back to the house, and Yeosang pulled away from the window in case he looked up and saw him there. He couldn’t let Wooyoung know. He couldn’t let anyone know.

Yeosang was in love with Wooyoung.

Chapter Text

On Sunday night Hongjoong went out with Seonghwa to see an exhibit on dinosaur fossils at the museum. On Monday night he had work with the delivery service, and spent his breaks between deliveries texting Seonghwa, telling him about the weird places he was delivering to and refusing Seonghwa’s not-so-subtle offer to just drive him to all his destinations. On Tuesday night he texted Seonghwa while on his shift at the convenience store, and then called him when he got home, complaining about how he’d been given an extra shift for the next night.

“Oh,” said Seonghwa. He sounded crestfallen. “I kind of had something planned.”

“No, it’s cool,” said Hongjoong quickly. “I’ll be done by ten, and then we can go.”

“Are you sure?” asked Seonghwa. “You won’t be tired or…?”

“I’ll be fine,” said Hongjoong. “Besides, I don’t have work the day after so I can rest then. It’s totally fine.”

That had been a lie—Hongjoong did have work the next day, a morning shift in fact—but Seonghwa’s happy agreement made it worth it.

And now it was Wednesday night, and Hongjoong was in the backroom at the convenience store trying to fix his hair and wondering where Seonghwa was going to take him.

He was aware of things progressing in ways he hadn’t expected. It wasn’t supposed to be so… easy. Hongjoong didn’t feel awkward around Seonghwa anymore. He did feel a ruffle in his chest sometimes, but he wouldn’t call it awkwardness. 

He had to stop before things got out of hand, but every time Hongjoong thought of saying something, of telling Seonghwa direct, something happened that drove every thought out of his brain. Sometimes it was Seonghwa taking him to a place he’d never been before, galleries and exhibits mostly, ever since he’d found out Hongjoong was interested in art. Sometimes it was the little things Seonghwa did out of concern, calling Hongjoong when he was out at night to make sure he was safe, asking if he was cold or hungry or tired, or if he’d had a hard time at work. Sometimes it was just the sight of Seonghwa’s stupidly handsome face. 

But Hongjoong knew it had to stop somewhere, and he had to be the one to stop it. Just after tonight. 

He walked out of the backroom, still trying to get his hair to sit exactly how he wanted it. “Did Jaejin show up yet?” he asked. “I’ll be leaving soon.”

“Yeah, yeah, he’s here,” called Soyeon from the counter. “Joong, check this out. Some rich dumbass parked in front and hasn’t moved for, like, ten minutes now.”

Hongjoong chuckled, and then stopped. “Shit,” he said, and hurried to grab his things and run out. That was his rich dumbass.

He was just out the door when Seonghwa climbed out of the car. He looked heavenly, wearing his hair down and a soft oversized sweater in lavender tucked into straight-cut jeans. His face relaxed into a smile when he saw Hongjoong.

“Sorry, am I late?” asked Hongjoong, going around to the passenger side door. 

Seonghwa shook his sleeve back to look at his watch. “I think I’m a little early,” he said. He looked back at the mart door and smiled, this time formal and polite.

Soyeon was standing in the doorway, staring at Seonghwa openmouthed. She caught Hongjoong’s look, broke into a huge smile and gave him the biggest, most obnoxious thumb’s up. Hongjoong got in the car half-dead with embarrassment.

When Seonghwa got in after him he was grinning. Hongjoong pointedly ignored the grin and asked, “So, where are we going?”

“You’ll see,” said Seonghwa, reversing the car. “Was that your coworker?”

“Yes,” said Hongjoong. “She’s kind of weird so don’t worry about her.”

“I’m not worried,” said Seonghwa, still smiling. He glanced at Hongjoong. “Why? What was she smiling about?”

“Nothing,” said Hongjoong firmly, making Seonghwa laugh. 

They rode in comfortable silence for some time. It was a cool night, but not enough to be uncomfortable, and Hongjoong liked it. He liked being in the car, with Seonghwa, watching him drive with a little bit of that smile lingering on his mouth.

“Where did you learn how to drive?” asked Hongjoong.

“Oh, Taehee-noona taught me,” said Seonghwa. “It’s her car. I just drive it.”

“Ah,” said Hongjoong. He wasn’t interested in the subject anymore.

“I used to drive her everywhere,” said Seonghwa. “Vampires don’t have much of a society, but she had a lot of friends and she liked discovering new places. I was her chauffeur.” He laughed.

“Can you not do that?” said Hongjoong, more harshly than he’d intended. 

Seonghwa looked at him, taken aback. “Do what?”

Talk about yourself like you’re inferior. “Nothing,” muttered Hongjoong.

“Oh, that’s nice,” said Seonghwa, eyes fixed ahead. “If something bothers you, you can just tell me. Don’t snap at me and then say it’s nothing.”

Hongjoong blinked at him. “I’m sorry,” he said. “You didn’t do anything. I was—I was just annoyed about something that happened before. I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.”

Seonghwa glanced at him, trying to catch the lie, but finally relaxed. “It’s okay,” he said. “Something at work?”

“Just customers being shitty,” said Hongjoong. It wasn’t technically a lie. 

“Retail work sounds like hell,” said Seonghwa.

Hongjoong hummed, and they fell into silence again. 

He felt bad for snapping at Seonghwa, but he couldn’t help it. The way he talked about the woman who turned him put Hongjoong off. Like she had been some goddess, and Seonghwa considered himself blessed to be even near her. As far as Hongjoong was concerned Taehee couldn’t have been that great if she never convinced Seonghwa otherwise.

He looked at Seonghwa. Planet? How could he think he was only a planet?

Without warning Seonghwa looked at him, and Hongjoong quickly broke eye contact. When he dared another look Seonghwa was focused on the road again, but there was more of a smile on his face.

Hongjoong looked out the window and thought he recognized where they were. “Isn’t your house around here?” he asked.

“It is,” said Seonghwa. He quickly added, “We’re not going there, don’t worry.”

Hongjoong laughed. “I didn’t ask, but thanks.”

“Just letting you know,” said Seonghwa. He looked embarrassed, and it made Hongjoong laugh again. “I usually do this with Jongho but he’s busy tonight.” He glanced at Hongjoong and said, “Just so you know this is nothing weird.”

“Ooh so you’re thinking of weird things?” Hongjoong grinned sideways at Seonghwa.

Seonghwa groaned, half smiling and half cringing. That look on his face was literally one of Hongjoong’s most favorite things in the world, and he liked knowing he’d put it there.

The car came to a stop in front of a place Hongjoong had been before. It was the park he’d met Seonghwa for the third time. 

“What are we doing here?” asked Hongjoong. 

“I told you, you’ll see,” said Seonghwa. He reached into the backseat and pulled out a bag Hongjoong hadn’t noticed before. 

Hongjoong felt his heart go into overdrive at the sight of it. The first thought that jumped into his head was a picnic, but that didn’t make sense—Seonghwa couldn’t eat. Not food, anyway, he could eat Hongjoong just fine—

Hongjoong huffed a laugh at that. Like Seonghwa would ever eat him. It was as likely as Hongjoong sprouting wings and turning into a fairy.

“What? What’s so funny?” asked Seonghwa. The park gates were open, and there were quite a few people inside despite the late hour.

“Just thought of something dumb,” said Hongjoong. “What’s in the bag? Don’t tell me we’re gonna have a picnic or something.” He said it jokingly, but he meant it. Picnics were a level of romance he didn’t think he’d be able to handle.

“No, we’re not having a picnic,” said Seonghwa. “There is food in here though, if you get hungry.”

“I am not going to starve to death if I go an hour without eating,” said Hongjoong with a grin. “Okay, no picnic. So why the park?”

Seonghwa turned to him with a smile. “For a good view.”

They found an empty spot away from everything else. Seonghwa reached into the bag and pulled out what looked suspiciously like a picnic blanket. Hongjoong gave him a look as he spread it.

“There’s going to be a comet sighting tonight,” said Seonghwa. “I want to see it.”

“Oh, cool,” said Hongjoong, flopping down on the blanket. Watching for a comet together was less romantic than a nighttime picnic. It straddled the line into platonic, didn’t it?

“It might take a while, so get comfortable,” said Seonghwa. He handed Hongjoong a light blanket and he took it gladly. The deeper the night got, the more the chill would set in.

Hongjoong shot off quick texts to Yunho and San, letting them know he’d be late and that they didn’t need to wait up for him. Yunho sent back an okay and a smiley. San replied with a string of eyes emojis that Hongjoong ignored.

Seonghwa was still setting up, taking all sorts of things out of the bag, from snacks to drinks to insect repellant. Hongjoong snorted at that, and Seonghwa shot him a Look.

“Do mosquitoes even go after you?” asked Hongjoong. He took off his jacket and balled it up into a makeshift pillow. 

“It’s for you,” said Seonghwa. “Put your jacket back on, you’ll get cold.”

“I won’t,” said Hongjoong, wrapping himself up in the blanket. “If I get cold you’re allowed to throw me into the lake.”

“So you can die of hypothermia? No thanks,” said Seonghwa. He lay down on Hongjoong’s left, arm’s length away. He had a blanket too, for show.

“Hypothermia? Where did you get that?” said Hongjoong, laughing. 

“I’m a vampire, Hongjoong, not uneducated,” scoffed Seonghwa. He stopped, frowned. “Don’t move.”

“What? Why?” asked Hongjoong, panicked but keeping still. “What’s wrong?”

Seonghwa reached out. “There’s a bug—”

Hongjoong jumped and scrambled forward. Seonghwa caught him with a laugh, brushing his hair with a hand. Hongjoong squirmed and ruffled his hair vigorously with both hands, just to make sure the thing was gone. 

“It’s okay, it’s gone,” said Seonghwa, laughing. “It was just an insect.”

Hongjoong shuddered, and then looked up at Seonghwa and shoved his chest. “It was in my fucking hair! Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I did,” said Seonghwa. He was still grinning. “Relax, it’s gone. It might not even have been an insect.”

Hongjoong would’ve argued, but that was the moment he realized he was pressed against Seonghwa, from his chest all the way down to his feet. Seonghwa’s left arm was draped over his waist. It was comfortable, and intimate. Hongjoong quickly moved back, trying to pretend like his face wasn’t on fire. 

“If you see another bug, make it gone without telling me, okay?” he said. His voice came out weird, and he cleared his throat.

“I’ll make it gone,” promised Seonghwa. 

He looked sincere and unfrazzled. Hongjoong relaxed and settled back under his blanket. 

It was nice. The grass underneath was soft, and the blanket kept Hongjoong warm and cozy. He found himself fighting to keep his eyes open. He knew he shouldn’t sleep, Seonghwa would make a big deal about how he was tired and needed to rest… but Hongjoong was tired and it was nice and warm. He could hear Seonghwa, just within arm’s reach, humming something soft and sweet in his beautiful voice, and Hongjoong thought, in a distant kind of way, that it would be nice to hear him sing…

 

Hongjoong had a dream. 

He was back in that vampire den, in the long hallway lined with doors. He opened the first one, and inside the light wasn’t red and forbidding but beautiful and pure, like the sun in mid-afternoon. Seonghwa was sitting inside.

I’m looking for something, thought Hongjoong.

Seonghwa held out his hands. Hongjoong went to him and took them in his own. Seonghwa was wearing the ring he’d bought the first time he and Hongjoong had gone out, but it was on his ring finger. Hongjoong puzzled over that a moment, remembering vaguely that the ring had been too small for that, more Hongjoong’s size than Seonghwa’s.

“You’re looking for me,” said Seonghwa. 

He pulled Hongjoong close, and Hongjoong went willingly, pressing his lips to Seonghwa’s. 

 

Sleep left Hongjoong like water running out of a tipped glass. He groaned, stretched, rubbed at his eyes. “Wha’ happened?” 

“You fell asleep,” said a voice.

Hongjoong forced his eyes open and peered through the bleariness. “Seonghwa?”

“Who else?” said Seonghwa. Hongjoong blinked a couple of times, and his vision cleared up, enough for him to see Seonghwa grinning at him. “Come on, let’s go. It’ll be sunrise soon.”

“What?” Hongjoong forced himself upright in one motion. “Sunrise? We got here less than half an hour ago.”

“We got here less than half an hour before you fell asleep,” said Seonghwa. He was already on his feet and folding the blanket he had had draped over him. 

“I wasn’t sleeping,” lied Hongjoong. “I was… meditating.”

“Yes, meditating,” said Seonghwa, grin obvious in his voice. “For hours on end. Of course. You must’ve reached Buddha-level zen by now.”

Hongjoong grumbled at that. He stretched, letting the blanket fall from his shoulders, and shivered as the pre-dawn chill hit his arms. He scrambled for his jacket. 

Seonghwa did most of the packing up, folding the blankets and stowing them in his bag, along with everything else he’d unpacked. Hongjoong was still trying to return to the land of the awake.

“Wait, what about the comet?” asked Hongjoong as they set off down the path. “Did I miss it?” 

“Yes,” said Seonghwa.

What? Why didn’t you wake me up?”

“I didn’t want to bother you,” said Seonghwa. He caught Hongjoong’s sour look and smiled and said, “It’s fine, I got to see it. And I’m sure you can find pictures online.”

“That’s not the point,” grumbled Hongjoong to himself. Seonghwa had brought him all the way out here to watch a comet with him, and Hongjoong had slept through the entire thing. He felt awful.

They started the long drive back to Hongjoong’s apartment complex. Hongjoong looked out east through the window, frowned as he saw the sky begin to light on the horizon.

“Hey,” he said. “Are you gonna be okay?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” asked Seonghwa, eyes on the road.

Hongjoong didn’t answer, but he felt unease settle in his gut.

It was as they were approaching the corner Hongjoong was usually dropped off did he realize something was seriously wrong. By then the sky was warming up with the colors of sunrise, golds and oranges leaking from the east across the indigo overhead. Seonghwa made the turn late, swerving into the other empty lane before pulling back. Hongjoong grabbed his seat and said, “Stop the car.”

Seonghwa did. His eyes were open, but he looked completely out of it. Like he hadn’t slept in days and was delirious with the need for it.

“What the fuck?” hissed Hongjoong. “You said you were going to be okay.”

“I am,” said Seonghwa. “But maybe it’s better if you walk the rest of the way.”

“And you? What’s gonna happen to you?” asked Hongjoong, feeling panic rise up his throat. He’d heard all sorts of rumors of what happened when vampires went out in the sunlight, but he didn’t know which were true, or if any of them were, he didn’t even know what would happen to Seonghwa—

“I’ll find somewhere to hide away until it’s dark,” said Seonghwa.

“Like hell you will,” retorted Hongjoong. “You’re coming with me.” 

Seonghwa didn’t even protest. 

They went the rest of the way to Hongjoong’s apartment building on foot. Seonghwa was still awake and walking, but he leaned heavily on Hongjoong, and that did nothing to assuage the fear in Hongjoong’s chest. 

“Don’t you dare fucking die,” he whispered. “If you die I will hate you forever.”

“I’m already dead,” said Seonghwa. His voice wasn’t slurred, but it was slow, every syllable coming out after a pause. 

“If you die again I will never forgive you,” said Hongjoong. “Never.” Seonghwa chuckled at that.

Hongjoong didn’t know if he imagined it, but Seonghwa seemed to regain strength when they reached the dark shadows thrown by all the buildings arranged in a ring. He leaned less heavily on him as they entered the building and then the elevator.

“I’m not going to die, Hongjoong,” murmured Seonghwa. “It’s not poison. It just… weakens.”

“But enough to kill you if you stayed outside?” asked Hongjoong.

Seonghwa didn’t answer, which was answer enough. 

He carried his own weight while Hongjoong fumbled with the keys at the front door. When he finally got it open he grabbed Seonghwa by the waist, quickly muttered, “You can come inside, Park Seonghwa,” and entered the apartment with him. Seonghwa got in just as easily as he did.

“What was that?” asked Seonghwa with a soft laugh. 

“Just in case,” said Hongjoong. He didn’t care if Seonghwa made fun of him. “What now?”

“Dark room,” said Seonghwa. “And then I sleep.”

Hongjoong took him to his bedroom. It was the only room left in the apartment, and the window faced west, so it was shielded from the rays of the rising sun. He gently laid Seonghwa on his bed, and then rushed to get the curtains closed as well as he could. No light peeked through, but it was still early morning, and when it got to afternoon the sun would be at the right angle to barge in. Hongjoong wondered if he should dig out the spare curtains, maybe layer them over, or a sheet or something—

“Hongjoong, thank you,” murmured Seonghwa. 

“Are you okay?” asked Hongjoong, rushing back to him. “Is this okay? Do you need—fuck, do you need blood or something, I—”

The sound of Seonghwa’s phone vibrating cut off his frantic questions. Seonghwa fumbled for it, and Hongjoong had to reach into his pocket and pull it out.

“It’s Jongho,” he said. 

“Tell him I’m okay,” said Seonghwa. His eyes were already closed.

Hongjoong hesitated, but picked up.

“Where the fuck are you?” a loud voice demanded on the line. “It is literally morning, hyung, I swear if something happened to you—”

“It’s okay,” said Hongjoong quickly. “He’s okay. He’s at my place.”

Sudden silence. “Who are you? What are you doing with hyung’s phone?”

“I’m… a friend of his,” said Hongjoong. He looked down at Seonghwa, who was lying so still he might’ve been a corpse. “Seonghwa’s asleep. Don’t worry, he’s fine. Just… out.”

“How do I know you’re legit?” asked Jongho. “You could’ve done anything to him and then stolen his phone.” He sounded suspicious, and surprisingly lucid. It seemed he could handle the daytime better than Seonghwa.

“Then I wouldn’t have picked up,” said Hongjoong. He scrambled to find some way to prove he really knew Seonghwa. “His name’s Park Seonghwa. Tall, black hair. He likes building models. He texts using not only emojis but also those stupid kaomoji or whatever you call them. His favorite is the one with the dumb smile with the flowers on the sides of its face—”

“Okay, I believe you,” said Jongho. He paused. “Make sure he’s okay.”

“I will,” said Hongjoong. 

Jongho ended the call. Hongjoong took a deep breath, satisfied, and then looked down at Seonghwa.

He was so still. He didn’t move, not even a hair’s breadth. He was like a corpse, but beautiful, or a statue too exquisite to be real. 

After a little hesitation, Hongjoong started taking off Seonghwa’s jewelry. He didn’t know if Seonghwa would move in his sleep, but he didn’t want him to hurt himself in case he did. He removed his belt too, staring up at the ceiling the entire time because he felt creepy and wrong. 

Once all pointy metal things were gone, Hongjoong focused on his next job: light-proofing the room. He dug out the extra set of curtains and a couple of bedsheets. It stretched the limits of his resourcefulness to keep the curtains and sheets in place, but he finally managed. By the time he was done the room was almost pitch black. 

Hongjoong turned on the table lamp, and a dull gold glint caught his eye.

It was the bracelet he’d bought. Dull gold, like brass, with a small turquoise stone set in it. Just like the ring Seonghwa had, the ring Hongjoong thought he might’ve seen in a dream when he’d fallen asleep in the park. Hongjoong stared at the bracelet, and then, on a whim, picked it up and slipped it into his pocket. 

He went to lie down on the living room couch. Shutting all the light out of his room had taken some time, but Hongjoong still had over an hour before he had to leave the house, and he thought he could sneak in a quick nap. 

But he couldn’t sleep. His heart was still pounding from what it had been through. For some time Hongjoong had truly, genuinely thought Seonghwa might die. And he had been terrified. The thought that Seonghwa would just no longer exist, that Hongjoong would never see him again or see him smile in that way that was so special and unique to him—

“Stop,” said Hongjoong aloud, rubbing his face with both hands. “He’s okay. Nothing happened to him, he’s okay.” He wanted to cry for some reason, and that made him rub his face even harder, forcing the feeling back. 

Soon, too soon, San came into the living room, dragging his feet. He flopped down on the couch, half on top of Hongjoong, who groaned and tried to give him space. San just attached to him more. 

“What are you doing here?” he mumbled. San had a morning class.

“Trying to nap before I go,” said Hongjoong. 

San nodded, head rubbing against Hongjoong’s collarbone. “When did you get home last night?” he asked. “You got home even after me.”

“Yeah?” Hongjoong grinned. “And when did you come home?”

Silence. Hongjoong laughed and tried to smoothen out San’s hair. 

In the end, he didn’t get his nap. He and San got ready and ate together—Yunho was fast asleep, and they let him be—and then left the house together. Before they headed out Hongjoong checked in on Seonghwa and found him in the exact position he’d left him in. He looked at him, just for a minute, and then left, making sure to close the door behind him.

All through work Hongjoong was distracted. Seonghwa looked alright, but what if he wasn’t? What if vampires needed special protection during the daytime? Seonghwa had insisted he was fine, but he was like that, never wanting to burden Hongjoong or make him go out of his way. Hongjoong tried not to worry, but it was impossible.

Around ten, Hongjoong got a text.

park s.
thank you for taking care of me
i’m sorry for all this

Hongjoong had been in the middle of taking inventory when he’d gotten the text. He dropped everything to reply.

Are you okay?

park s.
i’m fine
i just need to sleep

Hongjoong took a deep breath and texted back, as long as youre okay.

park s.
i am
don’t worry about me

“How can I not worry?” hissed Hongjoong at the screen. “You were literally dying and you were worried about me walking back to my place!” He didn’t type that, though, instead sending a brief message telling Seonghwa when he’d be back that night. Seonghwa didn’t reply, probably already asleep.

Hongjoong was more useful for the rest of the day. He had some time between his shift at the record shop and the one with the delivery service, and for a moment he seriously considered dropping by the apartment. In the end he decided not to. Seonghwa would be sleeping anyway, and there was no need for Hongjoong to bother him.

Which meant that by the time Hongjoong got home it was already nightfall, and he knew Seonghwa would be up and waiting for him.

He kicked off his shoes at the door, calling out, “I’m home.” He got a distracted half-yell back in response. Typical Yunho language when he was busy gaming. 

Hongjoong hesitated before he entered his room. Should he knock? Would that be weird? He swallowed and opened the door.

Seonghwa was sitting in the desk chair, phone in hand but locked. He looked like he’d just been waiting for Hongjoong.

“Uh, hey,” said Hongjoong. “Were you just sitting here waiting for me?”

“I heard you come in,” said Seonghwa. “How was your day?”

“It was fine,” said Hongjoong. He shuffled awkwardly. “How, uh, how was yours?”

“Perfectly fine,” said Seonghwa, smiling. “But thank you. For making sure I was alright and taking care of me and everything.”

He looked beautiful, but strange. He had wiped his makeup off and the unnatural sheen of his skin showed under the electric light. It was odd to see him without the warmth in his skin tone Hongjoong was used to, but he was still Seonghwa, sweet and sincere.

“I didn’t really do much,” said Hongjoong, embarrassed. When Seonghwa said things like that with his stupid sincere face it was way too much. He cleared his throat, trying to chase away the feeling. “So do you wanna go home? I’m sure your—your coven must be worried about you.”

“Well that’s kind of hurtful,” said Seonghwa with a grin. “Are you kicking me out?”

“Of course not,” said Hongjoong quickly. He hesitated and then said, “Can you, like, step out for ten minutes? Just so I can change.”

Impossibly, Seonghwa’s grin grew wider. He got up and left the room, smiling to himself.

Hongjoong took a quick shower, thoughts racing the entire time. Seonghwa was fine. He wasn’t in any danger at all. He was okay, he would be okay, and Hongjoong no longer needed to feel that ridiculous urge to cry. 

He changed into another set of clothes, toweling his hair dry. He was about to toss his jeans into the laundry basket when he suddenly remembered what he’d stuck in the pocket.

Hongjoong sat down on his bed and looked at the bracelet. It wasn’t that pretty. It actually looked quite shabby, definitely not like that gorgeous watch still sitting on Hongjoong’s bedside table. That watch looked like the kind of thing someone like Seonghwa should be wearing. Not something Hongjoong had picked up on the side of the road—

Someone yelled, and something shattered.

Hongjoong shoved the bracelet into his pocket and sprinted out of his room. The living room was empty, but the kitchen light was on. Hongjoong ran in.

There, standing by the counter and with a broken glass at his feet, was Seonghwa. And standing by the door, wielding a potted plant as a weapon, was Yunho.

“Shit,” said Hongjoong.

“Hyung, stay back,” said Yunho, moving to shield Hongjoong. “This guy broke into our apartment and I have no idea what he wants but he could be dangerous.”

“No one broke in anywhere,” said Hongjoong as he nudged Yunho aside. He walked over to Seonghwa. “You okay?”

“Yes,” said Seonghwa. “I’m sorry, I broke one of your glasses.”

“It’s fine,” said Hongjoong. He held out his hand to help Seonghwa out of the patch of broken glass, and Seonghwa blinked in surprise before taking it. 

“What?” Yunho turned from Hongjoong, to Seonghwa, and then back to Hongjoong, aghast. “Why are you being so nice to the—the home invader?”

“He is not a home invader,” said Hongjoong. “He’s—my—my friend.” He was aware of Seonghwa’s eyes on him as he said it, and fought to keep the grimace off his face. 

“Your friend? When did he get in here?” Yunho lowered the pot a little but didn’t put it down. “You got home, like, fifteen minutes ago.”

“He… uh…” Hongjoong floundered.

“I dropped him off,” said Seonghwa. “He invited me inside for a minute.”

“I’ve never met you before,” said Yunho.

“You don’t know all my friends,” said Hongjoong, irritated. “Now put the succulent down, Yunho.”

Yunho realized he was still hefting his improvized weapon, and put it down on the table. He looked much less confident without it. “Uh,” he said, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. “Sorry about that.”

“It’s alright,” said Seonghwa, with that pleasant smile he did so well. He turned back to Hongjoong. “I should probably go home.”

“Yeah, probably,” said Hongjoong, trying not to feel too disappointed. Getting threatened with a potted plant kind of killed the mood.

“Let me clean up first,” said Seonghwa.

“Are you serious?” said Hongjoong in disbelief, but Seonghwa was already moving. He dug out the broom and dustpan with scary familiarity, and had the broken glass swept up in no time. When he was done he looked at Hongjoong with a happy, satisfied smile.

“I like cleaning,” he said simply.

Yunho was still standing by the doorway, gawking at him. “Hey, do you wanna, like, move in or something?” he asked.

“He needs to get home,” said Hongjoong, shouldering Yunho out of the way. For some reason heat had exploded in his face, and he didn’t need Seonghwa making fun of him or Yunho noticing.

Seonghwa followed him to the doorway. “Thank you for helping me out,” he said. “And I’m really sorry about the glass.”

“It’s just a glass,” said Hongjoong. “Is it okay if I give your accessories and stuff back later?” He noticed Yunho hovering by the kitchen door, curious but not enough to try and eavesdrop, and he didn’t think it would be a good idea to go and fetch Seonghwa’s belt and watch from his bedroom in front of him.

“Of course, no problem,” said Seonghwa. “Just call and tell me when you’re free.”

Hongjoong nodded. “I’ll walk you to your car.”

“You don’t need to do that,” said Seonghwa, but Hongjoong was already wearing his shoes.

They went down in silence. Hongjoong glanced at Seonghwa in the elevator, at the way he was eerily luminescent under the lights. There was no way Yunho couldn’t have noticed. Hongjoong only hoped he didn’t know enough about vampires to recognize Seonghwa as one.

They stepped out of the building as the wind picked up, and Hongjoong realized too late he hadn’t brought a jacket. He shoved his hands in his pockets for warmth, and his fingers hit something hard. 

The bracelet. Hongjoong was still carrying it. He realized he’d been carrying it around the whole day.

“You’re cold,” said Seonghwa. Of course he noticed. He always did. “You should head back inside.”

“It’s nothing,” said Hongjoong. “Come on, it’s literally to the end of the street.”

“Hongjoong, you don’t have to go out of your way for me,” said Seonghwa, smiling. 

But I want to. I want to make sure you’re not alone, that you’re okay. I want to see you smile. I want to know it’s because of me. But Hongjoong didn’t get any of the words out. He only stared at Seonghwa. It suddenly hit him that he never really looked at Seonghwa, never more than glances at his eyes or mouth, and never when he was like this. Hair messy. Face bare. Looking at Hongjoong with sincere concern and a smile.

“I have something for you,” blurted out Hongjoong.

“For me?” Seonghwa looked surprised. “What is it?”

Hongjoong didn’t say anything. He just pulled the bracelet out of his pocket and held it out.

He watched as Seonghwa’s expression changed, from surprise and anticipation to confusion and then surprise again, but a different kind. Seonghwa took the bracelet from him and turned it over in his hands, examining it, and then he looked back up at Hongjoong and his smile was glowing.

“Thank you,” said Seonghwa, bright like the sun.

He put it on. He looked genuinely happy, smile fixed on his face as he admired it on his wrist. There was a kind of glow to him Hongjoong couldn’t describe, something beyond the luminance of his skin. It was something he radiated from inside.

Unthinking, Hongjoong lifted his hand to Seonghwa’s cheek.

Seonghwa started. He looked up and made eye contact with Hongjoong, and Hongjoong didn’t look away. Seonghwa fell still, perfectly still. He only blinked as he looked at Hongjoong, dark eyes glowing.

Hongjoong pulled Seonghwa close and kissed him. 

It was new but familiar, like something Hongjoong recognized from a dream. Seonghwa melted into the kiss, stepping in close until Hongjoong had to crane his neck so that he could keep kissing him. And he wanted to kiss him. Now, later, all the time. Hongjoong wanted to kiss Seonghwa.

Something cold touched Hongjoong’s cheek, and he jumped and pulled back. It took him a moment to realize it had been Seonghwa’s hand.

“Sorry,” murmured Seonghwa. “I forgot they’re cold…”

He sounded breathless. Hongjoong hadn’t known vampires could breathe, and he’d made Seonghwa breathless. He took Seonghwa’s hand between his and rubbed it vigorously, until the friction made it warm up just a bit. Then Hongjoong put Seonghwa’s hand back on his cheek and looked up at him pointedly.

Seonghwa laughed, brighter than the sun on any day, and pulled Hongjoong in for another kiss. 

Chapter Text

Yunho wasn’t dumb.

He knew people thought he was—probably because he was big and friendly and outgoing, and always tried to get along with people—but he wasn’t. When things stuck out, he noticed, and he knew how to put things together when he needed to.

Like Mingi.

Mingi himself was pretty simple and straightforward. He was shy at first, and he didn’t like to talk about himself, or accept compliments. He liked music and movies and playing games, and he could talk about them for hours. When he was excited he talked louder, and faster, until Yunho felt like he was listening to a high-spirited rap about fantasy battles or high speed chases or whatever Mingi was into at the time. He could be a little absentminded, but he was sweet. Really sweet.

Mingi was simple. Everything else surrounding him was not.

To start with, his illness. Yunho didn’t ask about it, because he knew it was a sensitive subject for him, but he couldn’t help but wonder. Whatever sickness it was forced Mingi to stay indoors, but why? Yunho had asked him once, innocently, if it was because he had a weak immune system or something like that, but Mingi had said no. Not only that, but the sickness didn’t seem to have any other effect on Mingi. He was fit—he’d mentioned dancing to Yunho, and you had to be at least a little fit to do that—and he didn’t ever seem tired or low energy. Yes, he slept the entire day away, but he never sounded sleepy any time during the night.

And then there was the thing about his family. Yunho knew Mingi had brothers—he didn’t know how many; they didn’t really talk about their families—but he had no idea what they did. From what he got none of them really worked, but they had so much money—Mingi owned the latest gaming consoles and his computer had great specs. It didn’t make sense. 

Something felt off, but Yunho never pushed. If something really was up, he was okay with Mingi telling him when he wanted to.

Until something happened that flipped Yunho’s world upside down.

He was lying down on his bed, scrolling through social media and trying to ignore San and Hongjoong arguing in the living room. San had gone out with Wooyoung and hadn’t been picking up Hongjoong’s calls. Hongjoong had somehow managed to get a hold of San and made him come straight home, and San wasn’t happy about it. Hongjoong sometimes yelled at San and Yunho, when they’d done something everyone knew was wrong, but this time San argued back. Yunho noticed he did that often, when it was about Wooyoung and how Hongjoong didn’t like him, but he didn’t say anything. He’d get involved if he needed to.

The arguing finally stopped, and a super angry San stomped into the room. He dropped into his bed, and then kicked around like a kid working through a tantrum. “I am so done with him,” he said shrilly.

“You know he’s a worrywart,” said Yunho. “I thought he was gonna strangle me, he was so worked up. Thanks for coming home before he popped a blood vessel.”

“He’s not a worrywart,” fumed San. “He’s just horrible to Wooyoung.”

Yunho couldn’t argue that, so he didn’t.

San sat upright. “He totally embarrassed me tonight,” he said. “I was with Wooyoung at his place. I forgot to take my phone off silent when I left the movies, which is why I didn’t pick up. So Hongjoong-hyung called Seonghwa-hyung! Can you believe that? He got his number so he could keep tabs on me!”

He looked outraged, but Yunho was lost. “Uh… who’s Seonghwa again?” San didn’t talk much about anyone except Wooyoung.

“Wooyoung’s brother,” said San. “Hongjoong-hyung met him once.”

“Oh,” said Yunho. “Not the pretty one?”

“No, that’s Yeosang,” said San dismissively. He was in the middle of a rant. “Anyway, Hongjoong-hyung must’ve gotten his number then. I saw them talking but I didn’t think it was anything. He called Seonghwa-hyung and it was so embarrassing, like I was a kid that needed to be taken care of. I am not a kid!”

“Yeah, that was too much,” said Yunho. “But you know he was just worried.”

“Why would he be worried? I was on a date! I was with Wooyoung,” said San, still fuming.

That was exactly why Hongjoong had been worried, and they both knew it. Yunho didn’t say anything.

“And we were having so much fun too,” grumbled San. “We were playing charades and I was winning. I even got to meet Mingi for the first time—”

Yunho’s brain shut off.

San kept talking, but Yunho didn’t hear a single word. Mingi. San had met Mingi. Mingi.

“Hey,” said Yunho, and his voice sounded weird to his own ears, like it was coming from a long way away. “Who’s Mingi?”

San stopped mid-rant. “Huh?”

“Mingi,” repeated Yunho. “You said you met Mingi for the first time. Who—who’s Mingi?”

“Another of Wooyoung’s brothers,” said San. “It’s Woo, Yeosang, Seonghwa-hyung, Jongho, and Mingi.”

“Okay,” said Yunho. He swallowed. “And he’s—he’s also—”

“Yeah, they’re all vampires,” said San, not realizing Yunho was in the middle of a mental breakdown. “Mingi’s a little different though. I only talked to him through a video call because he can’t be around humans yet, he gets really hungry and can’t control himself.” He stopped, and his eyes went wide. “You can’t tell Hongjoong-hyung.”

Oh, Yunho was not telling Hongjoong anything. He nodded.

San went back to his rant but Yunho wasn’t listening. His brain was whirring too loud for that. Wooyoung had a brother named Mingi. A brother who couldn’t go out because he couldn’t be around humans. Mingi had said before he lived with his brothers, and they were rich. San talked about Wooyoung’s brothers, and they were rich. 

No, Yunho told himself. It’s just a coincidence. I’m thinking too much into it. After all, what were the odds?

But he couldn’t stop thinking about it. It all made too much sense for Yunho to stop thinking about it.

He could ask Mingi about it. Just one question, direct, and Yunho would know for sure. Mingi was a terrible liar. Yunho was beginning to realize that was why Mingi avoided the topic of his illness and family.

But he didn’t. Instead he asked San.

Not directly, but roundabout questions about Wooyoung, his habits, his family. San was always happy to talk about Wooyoung, so he answered everything innocently. Wooyoung could wake up sometimes in the day. Like Mingi. Yes, they were rich, and they all lived together. Like Mingi’s family. Seonghwa managed their money, and he didn’t work. Like Mingi’s older brother.

And Wooyoung’s brother Mingi was loud and goofy and didn’t go out. Like Mingi.

Yunho wasn’t stupid. 

Mingi was a vampire. He was Wooyoung’s brother.

Oh, Hongjoong was going to kill him.

As soon as Yunho realized that, yes, Mingi was Wooyoung’s brother and a freaking vampire, he was done. He didn’t know what to do. He had to talk to Mingi about it, obviously, tell him he knew, but then what? Should he tell San? What if he spilled to Hongjoong? San wasn’t like that, but when he got worked up he didn’t hold back, and Yunho was not willing to risk his life on San’s emotional state.

So he kept it bottled up, and he was doing okay. San and Hongjoong were both distracted, busy with whatever was going on in their lives, and Yunho could handle it. Or so he thought. 

Things started going downhill after Yunho almost attacked Hongjoong’s friend in the kitchen.

In his defense, he’d really thought he was a home invader. He’d never met the guy before, and he was just standing in the kitchen looking at their glassware, what was Yunho supposed to think? 

Still, he felt guilty. He waited until Hongjoong came back up from seeing his friend downstairs to the bus or subway station or whatever, ready to apologize.

“Hyung,” said Yunho, as soon as Hongjoong walked in. “I’m really sorry, I had no idea—” He stopped. “Are you okay?”

“Huh?” Hongjoong looked up at Yunho. “Yeah, I’m okay. Why would you ask if I’m okay? Do I not look okay?”

He didn’t. He looked… fizzy. Like a bottle of soda that had been shaken hard and then left to sit, with only a flimsy plastic bottle cap to keep all the bubbles in. It was weird, and Yunho didn’t know how to react. Hongjoong was never like this.

“Is your friend okay?” asked Yunho. 

“He’s okay,” said Hongjoong. He smiled, hyper, bouncing. It was cute, and weird. 

“That’s good,” said Yunho. He hesitated, tried to make things normal. “You should’ve worn a scarf or something, your ears are bright red.”

“I’m not cold,” said Hongjoong. 

“Well,” said Yunho. “Okay.”

“Okay,” said Hongjoong. He was about to walk off, when he stopped. “Hey,” he said. “Maybe it’d be better if we didn’t tell San about this, okay?”

“Uh, sure,” said Yunho, confused. 

Hongjoong beamed and nodded. And then he went to his room, almost skipping, and leaving Yunho very confused.

A hyper, bubbly Hongjoong by itself was confusing enough. What made Yunho even more confused was what happened two nights after.

He was going to the kitchen to drink some water and maybe grab a snack. He’d been texting Mingi, which was what he did almost every night, but it wasn’t fun like before. Yunho was secretly freaking out about Mingi being a vampire, and it was getting so bad even Mingi was starting to notice. Even while Yunho got up to get his snack all he could think about was how Mingi didn’t eat snacks, he drank blood

He walked into the living room and found Hongjoong lying down on the couch, staring at the ceiling.

“Uh, you okay?” asked Yunho.

For a long time Hongjoong didn’t look like he’d even heard. And then, slowly, he said, “I did something.”

“Something good?” asked Yunho.

“I don’t know,” said Hongjoong. He sounded super out of it, like he was on a bad trip, except Hongjoong didn’t do drugs. “While I was doing it it felt good. Really good. I never wanted it to end. But now I don’t know if I did the right thing.”

“Uh.” Yunho shifted. “Is this, like, a sex thing?”

Hongjoong shot upright. “No! Fuck!” His face was as red as his hair. “Why would you say that?”

“I don’t know,” said Yunho, squirming. “I just thought… because if it is, y’know, it’s better if you talk to San—”

“It’s not a sex thing,” said Hongjoong. “It’s—you know what, never mind.” He dropped down onto his back again.

Yunho hesitated, and then said, “You know, if it’s about a—a guy or something, I say you should go for it.”

Hongjoong turned to look at him. “What?”

“I’m just saying,” said Yunho. “If you like someone, it’s okay. You can’t choose who you like and you shouldn’t try and—not.” He said it for Hongjoong’s sake, but he was thinking about Mingi. Lately it seemed like that was all he did. 

Hongjoong looked at him a long time, and then went back to staring at the ceiling. He looked deep in thought.

Yunho left him to get his water and snack. He hoped his advice had helped. Yunho wasn’t an idiot—it was obvious Hongjoong’s dilemma was about his ‘friend’, the one Yunho had almost assaulted with a succulent. Yunho hoped Hongjoong would take his advice to heart, and not only for himself, but for Yunho too.

When he got back to his room, stocked up with a bag of chips, San was waiting for him.

“Spill,” said San.

Yunho looked down at the unopened bag of chips, and then back up at San.

“Not the chips,” said San impatiently. He grabbed Yunho and sat him down in front of him. “You’re hiding something. Spill.”

“What?” Yunho laughed, and damn it, he sounded nervous. 

“Don’t you dare lie to me,” said San, fixing Yunho with his piercing stare. “I let it go all this time but now I want to know what you’re hiding. Tell me.”

Oh, he was serious. That wasn’t good. It was impossible to throw off a serious San.

Yunho tried. “Look, dude, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The look San gave him could’ve cut lead. “Don’t,” he said. 

He was giving the San look. That look that could’ve made a secret service agent crack. That look that could’ve boiled a potato in three seconds. That look that was now fixed right on Yunho, trying to crack him like a walnut.

And Yunho was cracking. He could feel it. He’d broken out into a sweat, and he could feel it dripping down the back of his neck. He was going to break. He was going to spill his guts, tell San all about Mingi and how he was a vampire and how Yunho still really liked him despite it—

“Yunho,” said San. “Spill.”

The guy I’ve been talking to online is a vampire and not only is he a vampire but he’s Wooyoung’s brother and I don’t know what to do and Hongjoong-hyung is going to kill me and—

“I met Hongjoong-hyung’s secret boyfriend,” blurted out Yunho.

San’s eyes lit up. “No.”

Yunho nodded.

San screeched. “When?” he cried. “Where? How?”

“Uh, like two nights ago,” said Yunho. “In our kitchen.”

“Our kitchen?” said San, eyes wide. “Like, in our apartment? Hyung brought him to our place?”

Yunho nodded. He felt bad for selling Hongjoong out, but it was the first thing that came to his head and he had to say something.

“Wow,” said San, awed. He started spitting rapid-fire questions. “What’s he like? Is he hot? What’s his name? Did he say anything to you?”

“Uh no we didn’t talk,” said Yunho. “I don’t know his name, hyung didn’t say. And yeah, I guess he was handsome. Black hair, pretty tall.” He didn’t mention the guy’s creepily bright skin. Yunho had been rude enough, threatening to knock him out with a plant. 

San narrowed his eyes. “How do you know he’s Hongjoong-hyung’s secret boyfriend then?” he asked.

Yunho told him about finding the mystery guy in the kitchen, and how he’d dropped the glass. “Hongjoong-hyung held his hand so he could step over, like, one broken glass,” he said. “Have you ever seen Hongjoong-hyung hold anyone’s hand? For any reason? And that was a pretty dumb reason.”

“Holy shit,” said San. “Holy shit.” And then he screeched again.

“Please shut up,” said Yunho with a nervous glance at the door. “I wasn’t supposed to tell you and hyung is literally right out there.”

“What? Why weren’t you supposed to tell me?” demanded San, still way too loud.

“I don’t know,” said Yunho. “He didn’t want me to know either. I just… met the guy.”

San nodded, almost bouncing with excitement. “I need to tell Wooyoung,” he said, and jumped for his phone. 

Which reminded Yunho that he needed to talk to someone too. It had been too long already. Any more and he would explode.

It was time.

It didn’t take long for San to leave, supposedly to hang out with friends but definitely to meet Wooyoung. Hongjoong was still going through his emotional crisis in the living room. It left Yunho alone and undisturbed, which was good. 

He had a very important call to make. 

“Hey,” said Mingi. “Are you feeling better?”

“Hi,” said Yunho. “I’m okay.”

“I just got the feeling something was wrong,” said Mingi awkwardly. “If you wanna talk about it, I’m, like, here.”

Yunho swallowed. “I actually do wanna talk about something.”

“Oh,” said Mingi. There was a rustle on the line, probably him getting comfortable in his bed. “What’s up? Can I do anything?”

“Yeah,” said Yunho. His heart was right up in his throat. “Just… answer. Okay?”

“Yeah, of course,” said Mingi. He sounded so earnest. 

Yunho took a deep breath. “Okay, I’m just going to ask you straight out,” he said. “Are you a vampire?”

Silence. And then, on the other end of the line, a thump, like something heavy falling.

“Mingi,” said Yunho. He didn’t know if Mingi was even listening. “Mingi, just tell me.”

More rustling on the line, and then Mingi said, in a high pitched, reedy voice, “Why would you ask me that right now?”

“Yes or no, Ming,” said Yunho. He was getting desperate now. “Just… yes or no.”

There was another silence, but this one was different. This one felt heavy, and full. Yunho’s heart was lodged in his throat, thudding there.

And then, slow, pulled out and pained, “Yunho.”

Yunho collapsed onto the bed. It was true.

“Yunho,” said Mingi again. He sounded so in pain. “I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I didn’t—I shouldn’t have—I’m so sorry. If you never want to talk to me again it’s okay—”

“What?” Yunho rolled over. “Why would I never want to talk to you again?”

“Because I’m… you know,” said Mingi miserably.

“Yeah, I know,” said Yunho. “I don’t care.”

It was quiet on the line for some time. And then, very softly, hardly more than a whisper, Mingi said, “What?” 

“I don’t care,” repeated Yunho. “You could be a vampire or a ghost or a demon. It doesn’t matter to me. You’re still you.”

It was dead silent on the other side of the call. Yunho waited. He meant what he said, every single word of it. He liked Mingi. He didn’t care what he was. To Yunho he was just Mingi. 

“Hey,” said Mingi. His voice was soft, with a rasp to it. “Yunho.”

“Yeah, Ming,” said Yunho on an exhale.

For some time neither of them said anything. Yunho was content with keeping his phone to his ear, waiting for Mingi to talk.

He did, finally. “How did you find out?” he asked.

“Oh,” said Yunho. He let out an awkward little chuckle. “It’s actually a funny story.”

“Yeah? Like, funny weird or funny funny?”

“Both,” said Yunho. He laughed nervously, not because it actually was funny, but just because he had to. “So, um, you know Wooyoung?”

“Yeah,” said Mingi. He stopped. “Wait, how do you know Wooyoung?”

“He… uh…” Yunho sighed and gave up. “I live with his boyfriend.”

“Huh?” Mingi sounded confused. “San? You—wait—”

Yunho nodded, even though he knew Mingi couldn’t see him.

Another thump, and then what sounded like a muffled scream.

“You live with San,” said Mingi. “You—you’re the one he says is like his brother?”

“Uh, yeah,” said Yunho. “Aww, San says that? That’s really nice—”

Another muffled scream.

“Hey, are you okay?” asked Yunho, worried. 

“Your hyung is going to kill me!” 

He said it so loud Yunho had to pull the phone away from his ear. “What?”

“Your hyung,” said Mingi frantically. “The other guy you live with—the one Wooyoung is terrified of—he’s going to choke the life out of me, oh shit, Yunho I don’t wanna die, not again—”

“What? Slow down,” said Yunho, propping himself up on his elbows. “My hyung? You mean Hongjoong-hyung?”

“Yes, him,” said Mingi. His voice was high and panicky. “When he finds out he is going to, like, cut off my head or—or I don’t know, throw me off a bridge.”

“Hongjoong-hyung is not going to do anything to you,” said Yunho. He tried not to laugh, but Mingi was freaking out so much it was hilarious. “Why are you so scared of him anyway?”

“I don’t know,” said Mingi. “He scared Wooyoung bad.”

“He never did anything to Wooyoung,” said Yunho, and that was true. Hongjoong just bothered San. If Hongjoong did find out about them, Yunho was willing to be bothered if it would save Mingi.

“But Wooyoung is shit scared of him,” said Mingi. “And he is going to hate me.”

Yunho wanted to say Hongjoong wouldn’t, but that would be a lie and they’d both know it. “So what?” he said. “I don’t care that you’re a vampire. Do you think I care what Hongjoong-hyung thinks?”

There was another silence, and then Mingi said, much more quietly than before, “He’ll want you to stay away from me.”

“Yeah, and I already said I don’t care,” said Yunho. “He’s convinced Wooyoung’s dangerous no matter what he or San do, and they’re still together. What’s the difference if he doesn’t like you?” He didn’t know why Mingi was so hung up on this. Mingi was way more important than Hongjoong’s overprotective tendencies. 

“He’s right,” said Mingi.

Yunho frowned. “What?”

“Not about Wooyoung,” said Mingi. “About me. I am dangerous.”

“No you’re not,” said Yunho. “You wouldn’t hurt anybody, least of all me.”

“I don’t…” Mingi swallowed so loud Yunho could hear him over the line. “I’m not like the others, Yunho. I can’t control myself.”

Unease fluttered up Yunho’s sides. He remembered San saying something like that before, but he hadn’t thought it that serious. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“I can’t be around people,” said Mingi. “When I smell blood I go crazy. It’s like I never got out of the stupid newborn stage. That’s why I stay inside my house all the time. I don’t wanna hurt anyone.”

Yunho was quiet as he swallowed the information. Mingi couldn’t be around humans. Mingi couldn’t be around him. “You said it was like a newborn stage,” he said finally. “You’re gonna grow out of it eventually, right?”

“I don’t know,” said Mingi. “Seonghwa-hyung says we’re newborns for six months max.”

“And how long have you been… like this?” asked Yunho, dreading the answer.

“Six years,” said Mingi quietly.

Yunho’s heart ached in his chest. Mingi hadn’t been able to be around people for six entire years. “Ming I’m so sorry,” he said, voice soft.

“It’s cool, it’s not your fault,” said Mingi. He was trying to sound bright, and it hurt Yunho’s heart even more. “Besides, I don’t mind. I like being at home. And it’s not like I can miss what it’s like going out.”

“What?” Yunho didn’t understand. Before Mingi became a vampire he must’ve gone out, with friends or family or somebody, anybody—

“I don’t remember my life before turning,” said Mingi. He sounded so… neutral. Not sad, just recounting facts, like it wasn’t even about his own life. “It’s, like, the vampire who turned me was really young and she kind of messed up. That’s why I’m kind of messed up.”

“You’re not messed up,” said Yunho fiercely.

“No, I am, it’s fine,” said Mingi. “I know it too. Because I didn’t turn properly I lost all my memories from when I was a human. It’s also why I can’t control myself.”

Yunho swallowed. “So you won’t grow out of it?” 

A brief pause, and then Mingi said, “I don’t think I will.”

So Yunho could never meet him. He could never meet him face to face. He could never hold Mingi’s hand, or hug him, or even touch him just once. All of Yunho’s little fantasies, of Mingi coming to see him dance, of the two of them walking in the park together or sitting side by side to watch movies—they all fell apart right in front of him. He’d imagined them more than once, little, down-to-earth scenarios, spending time with Mingi and being around him. He realized now they had always been impossible. Yunho could never do those things with Mingi. 

But if it wasn’t with Mingi, Yunho didn’t want to do them anyway. 

He swallowed down the thick feeling in his throat. “It’s okay,” he said. 

“No, it’s not,” said Mingi. “Not for you.”

Now he sounded miserable. Now, when it was about Yunho, now it hurt Mingi.

“It is,” said Yunho, and he did everything he could to make it sound like the truth. “I told you, I don’t care. It’s okay if you—if we can’t meet. We can still talk like this.”

“It’s not,” said Mingi. “It’s not fair for you. I never should’ve lied to you in the first place. I’m sorry, Yunho.”

“Don’t say sorry,” said Yunho. “You don’t have to say sorry to me. And I told you, I don’t care if we meet in person or not. I’m glad I know you. I’m glad I can talk to you, and I don’t wanna lose that.”

“You won’t be happy with me like this.”

“I won’t be happy without you.” 

Silence followed Yunho’s words, thin and fragile. He waited for Mingi to say something. If Mingi really didn’t want to talk to him, Yunho wouldn’t try and force him. But he’d meant what he said, and he hoped Mingi knew it.

“You mean that?” asked Mingi, as quiet as a whisper.

“Yeah,” said Yunho.

There was another stretch of silence, drawn out, taut like a stretched string. Yunho waited, phone by his ear, ready for whatever Mingi had to say, to fight if he had to. He didn’t move, seconds ticking by again and again, until finally—

“Me too,” said Mingi.

Yunho closed his eyes and took a deep breath. It felt incredible hearing that. The words felt right.

“So it’s us, right?” he asked quietly. “You and me?”

“Yeah,” said Mingi, voice soft. “It’s us.”

Yunho nodded to himself, eyes still closed. He had no idea what he was doing, and he knew Mingi felt the same. All he could do was hope everything turned out okay. 

Chapter Text

Hongjoong had no idea what he was doing.

He knew what he was doing specifically, which was putting on a jacket and fixing his hair. But in general, he had no clue.

He’d kissed Seonghwa. Not once, but many times. They’d kissed in the middle of the gray ring of buildings Hongjoong lived in, and then once or twice at the gate of the compound, and then again when they’d reached Seonghwa’s car at the corner of the street. Seonghwa had looked so happy he’d been luminous, and Hongjoong barely remembered the walk back to his building, he’d been in such a daze. Everything had felt right. Perfect. 

But that was then, when Hongjoong had been swept up in his feelings and too far gone to think. This was now, three nights later, and Hongjoong was going to see Seonghwa again.

If all of Hongjoong’s feelings told him it was right, all of his logic told him it was wrong. He’d been screeching about San dating Wooyoung for ages, and now he was doing the same with Wooyoung’s brother. How long was he supposed to pretend nothing was going on? Until San and Wooyoung broke up? What would happen to him and Seonghwa then?

It was logical that Hongjoong stop meeting Seonghwa, send him a brief impersonal message explaining it wouldn’t work and the whole thing was a mistake. And yet, here he was, trying to get his hair to sit right before he left to go meet Seonghwa again. 

Hongjoong had no idea what to say to him. Whatever vague friendship they’d had was firmly left behind. They were definitely not just friends now. 

San was out, Yunho rolling around on his bed talking over the phone. Hongjoong gave him a heads up as he was heading out, and Yunho just waved before going back to his conversation, smiling and laughing. Hongjoong was glad to see him so happy. He had no idea who this guy was that Yunho liked so much, but it was good he made him smile.

Outside it was chilly. Hongjoong wondered if he should turn back for a beanie, but decided against it. Seonghwa was probably waiting for him.

He was. Seonghwa stood at the corner he always waited at, car parked next to him. He was wearing a white turtleneck, hands in the pockets of a black wool trenchcoat, and he shook his bangs out of his eyes as he saw Hongjoong approach. 

Hongjoong’s gut twisted at the sight of him, standing there with a smile on his face. Now was it. He had to say whatever he had to say. 

“Hi,” said Seonghwa, as Hongjoong walked up to him. “I’m here to drive you to work, as promised. You’ll owe me though.”

He looked so relaxed, so happy. Hongjoong felt the tension run off his skin at the sight of him. “Stop acting like a loan shark,” he said. “I feel like I’m racking up a debt I’ll need to sell my kidney to pay off.”

Seonghwa laughed. He reached up, still smiling, and fixed Hongjoong’s fringe while Hongjoong started and then froze in surprise.

“Your hand’s warm,” he said without thinking. “How?”

“I have my methods,” said Seonghwa with a smirk. 

“Your hands are warmer than mine,” said Hongjoong, perplexed, as he took Seonghwa’s hands in his own to confirm. 

“Yeah, I planned ahead this time,” said Seonghwa, rearranging their hands so his were on the outside. They were big enough to encase Hongjoong’s easily.

“But how?” asked Hongjoong. Vampires weren’t warm, it was Vampires 101.

“That is a secret,” said Seonghwa, still with that smirk. “Come on, let’s go or you’ll be late for work.”

Hongjoong grumbled as he climbed into Seonghwa’s car, making him laugh again. In a few seconds they were on the way to the J-Mart Hongjoong worked at.

He watched Seonghwa drive in comfortable silence. He was so attractive in so many different ways. Seonghwa glanced at him, smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, and that’s when Hongjoong realized he had a smile on his face too.

“I like seeing you like this,” said Seonghwa.

“Like what?” Hongjoong tried to fix his hair again.

“So full of life,” said Seonghwa, eyes on the road. “Light. When I first met you, you seemed so… weighed down. Like you were carrying something and you were always thinking about it, right in the back of your brain, even when you were talking to me.” He smiled to himself. “You smile more now.”

Hongjoong blinked at him. He didn’t know how to respond. Seonghwa didn’t look like he was expecting a response though, only giving him a glance and a smile.

He was right. It was strange for Hongjoong to think about it, but Seonghwa was right. Hongjoong hadn’t even been nineteen when he met Yunho and San and suddenly found himself thrust into the guardian role. He thought about them, their worries, their fees and their bills and their safety constantly. When he was working, or with his friends and having fun, or in bed trying to sleep, something lingered, whispering he should be doing better, working more, harder. The only time he truly forgot everything else was when he was painting. Or when he was with Seonghwa. 

Hongjoong remembered the first time he’d entered the vampire den, when he’d experienced a vampire’s bite for the first and last time. It had given him pure, unweighted bliss, utterly unchained him from his worries. He’d been scared he’d get addicted to that feeling, and it only added to his distrust of vampires. 

But Seonghwa gave him that too, in a different way. When Hongjoong was with him it was so hard to think about anything outside the two of them. 

And Hongjoong had considered giving that up? What was wrong with him?

Don’t do it, the logical side of Hongjoong whispered, and he told it, in no uncertain terms, to shut up. He was tired of thinking, of worrying. He wanted to be light. He wanted to be with Seonghwa. 

“Hey,” he said, as they neared the mart. “You remember that shop you bought that ring from? The first time we… went out.”

“Of course,” said Seonghwa. 

“Could you really not go in there?” asked Hongjoong.

Seonghwa kept his gaze fixed ahead. He looked embarrassed. “Not… not go in there… it just wasn’t very comfortable.”

Hongjoong stared at his face, not even trying to fight the grin on his own. “You liked me.”

“Oh, my god,” said Seonghwa, now definitely embarrassed. “Shut up.”

“You did,” said Hongjoong with a cackle. “You made up a reason so we could get each other’s numbers. Fuck, I should’ve known from the moment you ran back to your house to get me that charm I didn’t even own—”

“Okay, we’ve arrived,” said Seonghwa. “You can get out now.”

“You’re so obvious, Park Seonghwa,” teased Hongjoong. 

“Well, what about you?” shot back Seonghwa. “You agreed to go with me.”

“I didn’t know it was a ploy to get me alone,” said Hongjoong with a dramatic sigh. It was only half a lie. He’d had a hunch, of course, but he hadn’t known for sure. “You tricked me, an innocent flower.”

“Innocent flower,” repeated Seonghwa, half grimacing, half laughing. 

Hongjoong laughed, and got out of the car. “You owe me for that, by the way,” he said. “Catch you later. Thanks for the ride, Park Seonghwa.” 

He was halfway to the door of the store when Seonghwa called out, “Hongjoong, wait.”

He had his head sticking out of the driver’s side window, and Hongjoong chuckled to himself before he went back and leaned down. “Yeah?” 

Seonghwa held out his hand palm up, and Hongjoong naturally put his own in it. It wasn’t warm anymore. Seonghwa reached into the pocket of his coat and came out with a hotpack, which he deposited in Hongjoong’s hand.

Hongjoong looked down at it, and then back at Seonghwa and laughed. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Just in case,” said Seonghwa, grinning. 

And then he leaned forward to kiss Hongjoong, and Hongjoong met him halfway. 

“Text me right before you get off work,” said Seonghwa. “I’ll be here to pick you up.”

Hongjoong hummed and nodded, not bothering to protest. Seonghwa smiled at that. Then Hongjoong stepped away from the car so he could reverse and drive off. 

“So… coming from another friendly outing?” 

Soyeon’s voice was right by Hongjoong’s ear, and he jumped. “Why the hell would you sneak up on me like that?” he demanded. 

She shrugged, unbothered. “I didn’t sneak up, you just didn’t hear me,” she said. “Was that you guys still being just friends?”

Hongjoong looked down at the hotpack in his hands, and smiled. “No,” he said. 

 

Wooyoung looked nervous. Hongjoong was trying to not let it get to him. 

They were at a diner near Hongjoong’s apartment, he on one side of the booth, Wooyoung on the other. San was attached to Wooyoung like a happy creeper vine.

This wasn’t what Hongjoong had expected. He’d called San to ask about vampires, wanting answers to some simple questions. If something like the dawn incident happened with Seonghwa again, Hongjoong wanted to be prepared. Instead San had jumped on the chance to set up this awkward meeting, insisting asking Wooyoung directly would be best, and they were both totally free to talk. 

And so here they were.

“So, um, what did you want to know?” asked Wooyoung. He was sitting with his spine perfectly straight, like a schoolboy facing a scary principal. 

“I just have a few questions,” said Hongjoong. “Is there any way I could accidentally hurt a vampire?”

San shot Hongjoong a sideways glare, but he ignored it. Wooyoung didn’t seem to notice. “Like, not on purpose?” he asked. “I guess, if you have something you don’t know is silver. That stuff’s not cool.”

Hongjoong didn’t have anything silver, aside from the charm Seonghwa had given him, so that wasn’t a problem. “Anything else?”

“Not really,” said Wooyoung. “I mean, I guess you could run me over with a car, that would hurt. But it’s not really accidental...”

“No one’s running you over with a car,” said San, with a warning look at Hongjoong. He moved even closer to Wooyoung, if that was possible.

“I don’t have a car,” said Hongjoong. “So that stuff about garlic and all that, that’s fake?”

“We can’t even taste or smell garlic,” said Wooyoung. “San says it’s rank though.”

“It smells so bad,” said San, making a face. Wooyoung smiled at him, features pouring fondness. 

“That reminds me,” said Hongjoong. Now that he had Wooyoung here, he might as well. “So, you can smell only living things, right?” Seonghwa had told him that when they’d gone shopping for cologne. Wooyoung nodded, and Hongjoong continued, “So if I ate something gross, can you smell that? Like, on my breath?”

“Um, no,” said Wooyoung. He turned to San and asked, under his breath, “Did he eat something gross?” 

San, who’d been busy giving Hongjoong a suspicious glare, said, “No. I have no idea why he’s asking.”

“Just curious,” said Hongjoong. He motioned to San and Wooyoung sitting attached to each other. “Don’t you get hungry being around him like that?”

“Oh, my god, hyung,” cried San. “That is so rude! How could you say that?”

“Not really,” said Wooyoung, unaffected. “It’s like… you guys have scented candles, right? And some of them smell like food. Do those make you hungry?”

Honestly, they did sometimes, but Hongjoong understood the analogy. “So we’re like scented candles.”

“Yeah, pretty much,” said Wooyoung. “And I get as much blood as I need from the club so I don’t really need to feed from San—” He stopped suddenly, eyes widening like he’d said the wrong thing.

But Hongjoong was preoccupied with another thought. “How do I smell?”

“Huh?” Wooyoung started, flustered. 

“I smell okay, right?” asked Hongjoong. Ever since Yunho had raised the possibility of his blood smelling bad the thought had niggled in the back of Hongjoong’s mind. What if Seonghwa was just tolerating the smell of him? Hongjoong wouldn’t be able to live.

“Um, sure,” said Wooyoung, looking desperately uncomfortable. 

“Tell me the truth,” pressed Hongjoong. “I won’t mind, I promise.”

“I am, I am, I swear,” said Wooyoung quickly, leaning back. “You smell alright. Not bad, but not super good. Not as good as San.”

Hongjoong leaned back, satisfied. He could live with alright.

“Aww, thank you baby,” said San, beaming as he pressed a kiss to Wooyoung’s cheek. 

“It’s just the truth,” said Wooyoung. He pecked San’s lips, and then they started making out.

Hongjoong very graciously let them, until it was obvious they weren’t planning on stopping any time soon, and then he said, maybe a little too loudly, “Really?”

They parted with a jump. “Sorry,” said San. 

It was like they’d genuinely forgotten Hongjoong was sitting right opposite them. It was kind of sweet, but Hongjoong would prefer not getting another front-row ticket. “Just don’t do that again,” he said. “Not in front of me.”

“We won’t,” said San seriously.

“I have a couple of more questions, then you can go,” said Hongjoong. “You said you don’t really get hungry because you get enough blood. How would I know you need blood soon? Before it gets too serious, I mean. Are there any signs?”

“Well it’s different for everyone,” said Wooyoung. “Yeosangie gets tired and slow. I get kinda hyper.”

“And… the other members of your family?” asked Hongjoong carefully. 

“Seonghwa-hyung gets clingy, Jongho turns into a bitch,” said Wooyoung easily. “Mingi… well, he’s, like, always hungry? So I don’t know.”

San threw Wooyoung an urgent hand signal to shut up, but Hongjoong paid him no attention. Seonghwa spoke about his family so sweetly, but the only one of them Hongjoong had met was Wooyoung. He wanted to ask for more details, but at the same time he felt wrong, like he was going behind Seonghwa’s back to find out. 

“Anything else?” asked San. 

There was one other thing, and this one made Hongjoong hesitate. But in the end his curiosity won out. He had to know. “What’s a blood bond like?” he asked.

Wooyoung blinked, caught off guard. “Huh?”

“You have a brother, right?” said Hongjoong. “You’re… related by blood. What’s it like? How far does the bond go?”

“How do you know about all that?” asked San.

“Heard it somewhere,” said Hongjoong dismissively. “Well?” 

“Uh pretty deep, I guess,” said Wooyoung. “The same guy turned me and Yeosang, and we’ve known each other for literally decades now. I can kinda tell when he’s nearby? Or feel what he’s feeling. Like if he’s upset, he doesn’t need to tell me, I can—I should just be able to tell…” He trailed off, eyes on the tabletop. 

“Woo?” San’s voice was soft as he put an arm around Wooyoung. 

“I’m fine,” said Wooyoung. He smiled, but it didn’t look as full as before. He turned back to Hongjoong and said, “That’s me and Yeosang.”

“What about the bond with the vampire that… made you?” asked Hongjoong.

“Oh, that can be crazy strong,” said Wooyoung. “It depends on the maker, actually. When a vampire turns you they always have a hold over you. They can influence your emotions and personality bad enough to literally brainwash you. Our maker Jisung didn’t do that, he was cool, but some shitty people do. Like Jongho’s.”

“Jongho’s?” Hongjoong knew he shouldn’t ask, but he was curious. Seonghwa talked a lot about Jongho, and with so much adoration. From what Hongjoong gathered they spent a lot of time together.

Hongjoong didn’t have to ask direct, Wooyoung was eager to share. “His maker made him worship her,” he said. “Literally. He said she made him obey every little thing she said, made him think he loved her more than anything. It was so bad he said he would’ve killed himself for her.”

Horror twisted Hongjoong’s insides. “She could do that?”

Wooyoung nodded. “She did, for a couple of months after he turned.”

“What happened?” asked Hongjoong. “What made her stop?” 

“We don’t really know,” said Wooyoung. “Jongho says she just got tired of him and abandoned him. She stopped controlling his emotions all of a sudden, and it made him realize what she’d been doing to him. It messed him up real bad.”

“I can’t imagine,” murmured Hongjoong. To be devoted so deeply to someone, and then to realize you’d been brainwashed the entire time… 

“But he’s really nice now,” said San, arm still around Wooyoung, now with fingers locked with his on the table. “And he’s not under her control at all.”

“Because she didn’t come back,” said Wooyoung, voice low. It was the most serious Hongjoong had ever seen him. “Which is good for her. Seonghwa-hyung would get rid of her if she tried to take Jongho back.” 

“He means scare her away,” said San quickly. “Hyung would never hurt anyone.”

“But if she did die no one would be that sad,” put in Wooyoung. “None of us even met her, except Jongho, and he definitely doesn’t like her. And if she died it’d mean he’d be out of her control forever. The control only lasts as long as the maker is alive. Hell, she might be already dead.”

Hongjoong digested this information. Seonghwa always talked about Jongho fondly, and maybe a little defensively. This would explain why. Hongjoong felt guilty for finding out without Seonghwa knowing, and tried to put the feeling aside. Wooyoung had told him willingly. He hadn’t even asked about Jongho. He’d just wanted to know about blood bonds. 

The mind control didn’t extend beyond death, which meant Seonghwa’s admiration of his maker Taehee was genuine. That was comforting, in a way. At least she wasn’t a sociopathic bitch like Jongho’s was. But for some reason it still bothered Hongjoong, just a little scratch at the back of his brain.

“Do you want to know anything else?” asked Wooyoung. 

Hongjoong chewed his lower lip. It was just natural curiosity, he told himself. He wasn’t asking for any specific reason, he just wanted to know… “Could vampires who have a blood bond like each other? Romantically?” 

San burst into laughter. “Oh, my god, hyung, that’s gross,” he screeched. “Woo and Yeosang are brothers!”

But Hongjoong noticed Wooyoung didn’t answer. He didn’t laugh either, and was very pointedly making himself busy staring at nothing. 

“Wooyoung?” he said. 

“Uh…” Wooyoung squirmed. “Not… it’s not really like, uh, being related like that…”

San stopped laughing. “What?” 

“I’m just saying,” said Wooyoung. He looked uncomfortable again. “I’ve heard of lots of vampires who were in relationships with their makers, or with vampires turned by the same maker. It’s not gross.” 

“You didn’t tell me that,” said San, suddenly serious. “You always said Yeosang was your brother.”

“I just thought it’d be easier for you to understand if I said that,” said Wooyoung. “It’s kind of like you and Yunho. You’re not really brothers, right?”

“But I would never date Yunho,” said San. He removed his arm from around Wooyoung and sat up straight. 

“Why are we talking about me dating Yeosang?” asked Wooyoung, bewildered. 

“We weren’t talking about it, you’re the one talking about it—”

“Okay, can we stop?” said Hongjoong, reminding them there was someone else with them. “Thank you, Wooyoung. That’s all.”

“Cool,” said Wooyoung. He looked relieved, either from being able to escape Hongjoong, or for the distraction from his conversation with San. “You’re welcome. Hope I helped.”

“You did,” said Hongjoong. He smiled at him, and Wooyoung stared at him in utter shock, too taken aback to smile back.

The three of them left the diner together. Hongjoong and San would head home together, and Hongjoong had to hover nearby as San and Wooyoung said goodbye, whatever argument they’d been about to have already forgotten. San kept his arms locked around Wooyoung’s waist while Wooyoung peppered his face with kisses, and then left kisses on his neck, making him giggle. When they were finally done San returned to Hongjoong’s side, looking abashed. 

“Sorry,” he said. “You probably think we’re gross.”

Hongjoong said nothing, just shrugged and started walking. He wasn’t very physically affectionate, especially not in public, so that was exactly the kind of display he hated. The weird thing was, the only thing he’d thought was to wonder if Seonghwa wanted to do that with him. 

 

Seonghwa picked him up at the corner near the apartment complex. He didn’t have his car with him, but that was fine. They walked and then took the bus to the amusement park. 

The park was an explosion of glittering lights, but none of them compared to Seonghwa. He was bubbly, bouncing like an excited child. Hongjoong only watched him with a grin on his face.

“It’s just a theme park, you know,” he said, as they entered.

Seonghwa looked highly offended. “I love theme parks,” he said. 

“Yeah, I can tell,” said Hongjoong, grinning. “What do you wanna do first?”

What Seonghwa wanted to do was buy Hongjoong a ridiculous amount of snacks, and then watch as he struggled to carry all of them. Hongjoong tried to eat them at first but eventually gave up, and ended up walking around with his arms laden, while Seonghwa slipped the smaller boxes into his jacket pockets. 

“You’re enjoying this,” said Hongjoong, after he’d spilled half the candy popcorn. 

“Of course not,” said Seonghwa innocently. He looked cute, with his hair all down and straightened, naturally curving out in a perfect bowl. He wasn’t wearing a coat either, only a turtleneck in a beautiful teal, the front of it tucked into white jeans. 

“You don’t usually do your hair like this,” said Hongjoong, trying to motion with a hand and almost dropping a pack of sour gummies. 

“I thought I’d try it,” said Seonghwa. He gently touched the ends of his bangs. “How do I look? Wooyoung said I looked like a mushroom.”

Hongjoong snorted. He could see it. “You do look a little like Toad,” he teased.

“Toad? Like the animal?” Seonghwa frowned.

“No, like the little dude from Mario,” said Hongjoong. 

“I don’t know who that is,” said Seonghwa. “Is that a compliment? It doesn’t feel like a compliment.”

“It’s totally a compliment,” said Hongjoong with a grin. 

He walked a few steps to look at a kids’ carnival game, but actually to watch as Seonghwa not so inconspicuously took out his phone to search it up. The cry of outrage he heard a couple of seconds later was glorious.

“I do not look like Toad,” fumed Seonghwa, marching up to him. “How could you say that? He has no hair!”

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry,” said Hongjoong, trying not to laugh and failing miserably. “If you were anyone in Mario it would be Peach.” 

Seonghwa shot Hongjoong a look, and then searched the character up. This time he was much more satisfied. 

“Alright,” he conceded, making Hongjoong laugh. “Peach is fine.”

They played a couple of carnival games, and Seonghwa was surprisingly good at them. He hit the bell in the hammer strength game, which was expected considering his vampire strength, but he also had good aim. He won two stuffed animals, one of which he kept for himself, the other he let Hongjoong choose and keep. 

“Something small,” said Hongjoong. “I’m not carrying anything big.” He’d just finished all the snacks he’d been lugging around. 

A small dinosaur plush was chosen. It was about the size of a baseball, striped in green and blue, and fit in Hongjoong’s jacket pocket. 

“You should’ve picked something bigger,” said Seonghwa, as Hongjoong drank from the soda cup he’d just bought. He had a gray raccoon tucked under his arm. “You’re going to lose it.”

“I am not,” insisted Hongjoong. “I don’t lose stuff.” 

He held up the cup to Seonghwa, a silent offer, and was stunned when he shrugged and bent down to take a swig of his drink. 

“You never told me you could drink stuff,” said Hongjoong. He quickly added, “I mean, other stuff.”

“It doesn’t taste like anything or do anything for me, but yeah, I can,” said Seonghwa with a little smile. And then, just to prove it, he drank more of Hongjoong’s soda.

“Stop, you’re finishing it,” grumbled Hongjoong, batting him away. Seonghwa laughed. 

They came up to the carousel, all decked in glittering electric stars and multicolored lights. Seonghwa wanted to ride, but he was above the height limit. Hongjoong, embarrassingly, was not. 

“Come on, let’s get on something else,” he said, tugging on his sleeve. 

But Seonghwa turned big shiny eyes on Hongjoong. “Please get on,” he said. “Please, please, please. I’ll owe you.”

Hongjoong wanted to refuse, but he found he couldn’t say no to that look on Seonghwa’s face. He gave in with an embarrassed laugh and a “Fine,” and was immediately scooped up and kissed on the lips. 

“Sorry,” said Seonghwa, looking too happy to be truly sorry. “Thank you.” 

Hongjoong got on, half dying with embarrassment. The girl at the gate gave him a look, and all he could do was shrug and offer a weak smile in response. He found a horse and sat on it gingerly. It looked sturdy, but he did not want to end up saddled with fees if it ended up breaking under his weight.

The merry-go-round started up as an old nursery rhyme began over the speakers. Hongjoong rotated round until he found Seonghwa standing where he’d left him, phone in hand and the biggest, most beautiful smile on his face. He was recording, Hongjoong realized. He squawked and hid his face behind his hands. 

He sneaked a look as he started moving out of view, and saw Seonghwa still had his phone up, and was laughing now. Hongjoong shot him a look, and then threw his head back and laughed, still self-conscious but better. When he came back around on the second turn, he did wacky poses for Seonghwa, making him cringe but still laugh. 

“You looked so cute,” said Seonghwa, after the ride was finally done. 

“Share that video with anyone and die,” said Hongjoong. 

“I’m already dead, but I understand,” said Seonghwa with a grin. “What do you want to do now? You can pick.”

Hongjoong looked around until something caught his eye. “Ferris wheel,” he said. 

Seonghwa stopped. “Are you sure?” he asked nervously. “Isn’t it dangerous?”

“No it is not,” said Hongjoong, laughing as he started tugging Seonghwa towards it. Seonghwa went with him. “It’s the slowest thing here. I think even the merry-go-round moved faster.”

“Yes, but the merry-go-round is on the ground,” persisted Seonghwa. 

Hongjoong gave him a sideways grin. “Are you scared?”

“No,” said Seonghwa. An obvious lie. 

“Good, because we’re getting on it,” said Hongjoong.

Seonghwa was anxious the entire time in the queue, unable to stand still. Hongjoong guessed it was a little mean of him, but he found it funny, because he knew it was completely safe. Still, he watched Seonghwa, ready to back out if he was really that scared. 

But when they reached the head of the line Seonghwa got into the car no problem, and Hongjoong climbed in after him.

They sat on the same side of the car. “You should sit on the opposite side,” said Hongjoong, trying to keep the grin off his face. “You’ll mess up the balance, and the whole thing could tip over.”

“Stop trying to scare me, I know that’s not true,” said Seonghwa, but he didn’t look entirely convinced. 

Hongjoong shrugged, and then made a show of freezing. “Did you feel that?” he asked. “That shaking?”

“Hongjoong!” 

“No, seriously,” said Hongjoong. He gripped the seat. “There it is again, like something’s loose—”

Seonghwa shot towards him. For a moment Hongjoong thought he’d choke him—which, he could admit, he kind of deserved—but he just clutched onto his arm, curling up against his side. Hongjoong cackled and pulled Seonghwa in close against him. 

“You’re terrible,” said Seonghwa, still holding him tight. “If the thing really does come loose…” 

“It won’t, nothing’s loose,” said Hongjoong. “We’re going to be fine.”

He said it with a laugh, but he felt guilty for scaring Seonghwa so much. It didn’t help that Seonghwa didn’t respond, not even to whine or call him mean, just held onto Hongjoong like he had magical powers and would be able to protect him if the ferris wheel did fall apart.

“Hey, I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I didn’t know it was that bad. I shouldn’t have made you get on.”

“You didn’t make me do anything,” murmured Seonghwa. “I thought I’d be okay.”

All Hongjoong could see of him was the crown of his head, right up against Hongjoong’s chest. He hesitated, and then started running his fingers through his soft black hair. He didn’t know if it helped, but San did it to him when he was stressed and it always made him feel better. 

“I had a lot of fun,” said Hongjoong, trying to fill the silence. “Thanks for the snacks, and the dinosaur. And everything.”

“Yeah?” Seonghwa’s voice was small. 

“Yeah,” said Hongjoong. “It’s not just an amusement park. Tonight was really great. Thanks for asking me to go out with you.”

Seonghwa raised his head to look at him, and Hongjoong leaned down to kiss him. He didn’t think he’d ever get used to this, kissing Seonghwa, but he was ready to find out. It was even stranger like this, with him bending down like Seonghwa was even shorter than him, and the thought made Hongjoong smile.

“What?” asked Seonghwa, straightening a bit. “Why are you smiling?”

“No reason,” said Hongjoong. He extricated his arm from Seonghwa’s grip to wrap it around him and pull him back in. Like this Seonghwa almost seemed smaller than him. “Next time you ride the merry-go-round.”

“I’m too tall,” complained Seonghwa. “It’s totally unfair, because they hadn’t even invented those when I was a kid so I never got to ride one.”

“Aww, I’m sorry,” said Hongjoong, mussing up his perfect mushroom hair. “That’s so sad. It could be your villain origin story.” Seonghwa grumbled and lightly pushed at Hongjoong’s chest, but settled down.

Hongjoong looked out the window as the car slowly continued its descent from the highest point. The city spread out beneath them like a map of gems, red and gold and white, and it was calming seeing it so still and quiet. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d come out to an amusement park like this. He was glad he was here with Seonghwa. 

Seonghwa started getting antsy as they got close to the bottom. When they reached the base and the car door was opened, he shot out like a rocket. Hongjoong was touched to see that as soon as he was safely on the ground, Seonghwa turned back for him and bodily lifted him out. 

“I’m okay,” said Hongjoong, laughing as he held onto Seonghwa’s arms. 

“That’s right,” said Seonghwa. “Now that we’re on the ground, we’re both okay.”

Hongjoong laughed, and then stopped when he realized something was missing. It took him a moment to realize what. “Seonghwa, you left your raccoon in the car,” he said. 

“What?” Seonghwa looked up at the climbing wheel car, almost devastated. “My raccoon…” 

“It’s okay, we’ll just wait until it reaches the ground again,” said Hongjoong. “Whoever got in will give it back.”

So they waited. Seonghwa drummed his fingers against his thigh impatiently, catching Hongjoong’s attention. Hongjoong looked at his hand a moment, and then took it in his own. Seonghwa started in surprise.

“Just checking if they’re warm,” said Hongjoong casually. Seonghwa looked so frazzled it was adorable. “You didn’t use your methods tonight.”

“No, I didn’t think…” Seonghwa trailed off, abashed. “Next time.”

“It’s cool, I don’t mind,” said Hongjoong. He rubbed Seonghwa’s hand between his a moment, and then let go. Seonghwa smiled, more to himself, glowing like the lights dotting the ferris wheel.

The car they’d been in finally reached the bottom, and Hongjoong asked the new occupants, a couple of girls, to hand him the stuffed animal. One of them stared at Seonghwa unabashedly, and Hongjoong grinned. Seonghwa was too handsome not to attract attention. 

“There she is, safe and sound,” said Hongjoong, handing the raccoon over.

“Thank you,” said Seonghwa as he held it close. “And he’s a he. His name is Joong.”

Hongjoong gasped, feigning offense. “You named your trash panda after me?” 

“He is not a trash panda, he is a raccoon,” said Seonghwa. “And he’s very cute, just like you.”

“Okay, okay, if you say so,” said Hongjoong. “Just make sure you don’t lose him again.”

“Never,” said Seonghwa seriously. 

They spent awhile longer at the park, playing games, getting on rides. As promised, Seonghwa kept his raccoon safe, and when they got on the bus back to Hongjoong’s apartment it was sitting snug on his lap. 

Seonghwa got off at the stop with Hongjoong. Hongjoong felt bad, knowing Seonghwa’s house was on the other side of the city and he had no car, but he knew there was no point in trying to convince Seonghwa to let him come home alone. 

“Thank you for going with me,” said Seonghwa, cupping Hongjoong’s face with his cold hands. “I had a lot of fun.” 

“Me too,” said Hongjoong, and he meant it. He felt lighter and freer than he’d ever felt before, and he hoped it showed. 

Seonghwa smiled, and kissed him. “I’ll see you later.”

Hongjoong hummed and nodded. He put his hands over Seonghwa’s, just a moment, and Seonghwa lowered his hands from his face so they could link hands. Then Seonghwa let go and stepped back, and Hongjoong turned to walk home. 

The chilly air nipped at his skin, but he felt warm. He slid his hands into his pockets, and closed his fingers around the pudgy dinosaur Seonghwa had won him. Hongjoong smiled to himself and kept walking. 

Chapter Text

There was a slight dip in income from the residential building on the north east side, mainly due to the ongoing repairs with the water system. Apparently the problem was worse than anyone had guessed. Someone’s bathtub had been close to falling through the floor and into the unit below. That would have to be checked on, just to ensure it was being handled quickly.

Seonghwa’s phone lit up with a message. He put everything aside to open it.

It was a picture of a pair of sneakers, all painted over in fiery reds and oranges, dotted through with sparks. The caption was a smiling emoji and text of finally done!!

Seonghwa smiled. They look incredible, he texted back.

joongie ❁
Thank you hehe
My fingers hurt from holding the brush
But im happy 

you should be
they’re amazing
but you should take breaks (๑•̀ᵔ•́๑)

joongie ❁
I wont

(๑•̀ᵔ•́๑)

joongie ❁
:p 

Seonghwa could imagine Hongjoong cackling at his very justified and sincere concern, and thought that was unfair. He sent another text reminding him that they would be going out tonight, and Hongjoong sent back a string of V-sign and sparkle emojis, his own unique way of saying okay. Seonghwa smiled at it a moment, and then locked his phone and put it away.

He’d just gotten back to deciding which units he’d personally check up on when Wooyoung walked into the living room and promptly threw himself over his shoulders.

“I’m bored,” he announced dramatically. “Play with me.”

“I’m busy,” said Seonghwa, but he closed the tablet and put it on the table anyway. “Unlike you, I’m employed.”

“That’s so mean,” whined Wooyoung, giving Seonghwa a shake and nearly crushing his windpipe. 

“It’s the truth,” said Seonghwa, reaching behind him to grab at Wooyoung. He pulled him around the end of the couch and half into his lap. “You’re lucky I can’t choke to death or I’d be dead by now.”

You’re lucky you can’t choke to death,” said Wooyoung. “I don’t care.”

Seonghwa gasped in fake outrage, and grabbed Wooyoung in a headlock. Wooyoung squawked and batted at his arm until he let go. 

“Not going out tonight?” asked Seonghwa, as Wooyoung plopped down next to him on the sofa. 

“No, San is busy,” sighed Wooyoung. “He has to study. Can you believe that? Study! He’s going to study instead of being with me!”

“Well, yeah,” said Seonghwa. “You don’t want him to fail, do you?”

“Of course not,” said Wooyoung. “I told him he could bring all his books and stuff here and I could, like, sit next to him while he studies but he said no. Apparently he won’t get any work done with me around.” He huffed.

Seonghwa thought about how, if you didn’t distract them, Wooyoung and San had a tendency to forget about everything outside their little bubble. “I can see why he’d think that,” he said.

“For your information I would be a great study buddy,” said Wooyoung. “I’m just a great buddy, period.”

“Sure, if you say so,” said Seonghwa. “What about the others?” 

“Mingi is texting or something,” grumbled Wooyoung. “He’s always on his phone. Sometimes he’ll even kick me out of the room so he can talk.”

“Is this the same friend he made through that game he plays?” asked Seonghwa. “Star-something?”

“You’re so old,” said Wooyoung with a cackle. “Star-something.”

“Just answer the question,” said Seonghwa, shoving him.

Wooyoung shoved back, but answered, “Yeah, I think it’s the same friend. I dunno, he doesn’t talk about him much.”

Seonghwa thought about it. From what he’d gathered, this friend was a little more than a friend. Which was sweet, but could become messy the longer it went on. Seonghwa wondered if he should ask Mingi about it directly, or get Yeosang to do it. Seonghwa could get a little too emotional when it concerned Mingi. Yeosang would be able to handle it more calmly.

“Seriously, though,” said Wooyoung, with a snort. “Star-something. Just say you’re a thousand years old, why don’t you?”

Seonghwa ignored that. “Where’s Yeosang?” 

The smile slipped off Wooyoung’s face. “I don’t know,” he said.

Seonghwa frowned. This wasn’t like Wooyoung. 

“He went out before you came downstairs,” said Wooyoung, looking away. “He, um, didn’t say where.” 

“Oh,” said Seonghwa. He didn’t know what else to say. Wooyoung always knew where Yeosang was, and vice versa. 

Wooyoung was silent, which was even less like him. He chewed his lower lip, obviously working up to something, and Seonghwa was willing to wait.

“Hyung,” he said finally. “Do you think Yeosang’s been kinda different lately?”

“Different? How?” asked Seonghwa.

“Just different,” said Wooyoung. “Like… he talks less. I mean, he usually doesn’t talk unless he has something to say, but it’s… different now. Like he has stuff to say, but he won’t. And it’s not all the time, either. Sometimes he’s okay, like he always was, but sometimes he’s… not.”

“I haven’t noticed,” said Seonghwa. He didn’t want to, but he had to be honest. Yeosang had been normal with him, except for a few pointed glances when the topic of Hongjoong came up, but nothing unexpected.

“No, I think—I think it’s only with me,” said Wooyoung.

“You think Yeosang’s upset with you?” asked Seonghwa, frowning. 

“I don’t know,” said Wooyoung. “But he’s different.” 

He looked wretched. He was wringing his hands in his lap, shoulders slumped like he’d been drained of the electric spark that normally powered him. It was the first time Seonghwa had seen him like this, so uncertain and unsettled, and he had known Wooyoung decades. 

“Hey,” said Seonghwa softly, putting a hand over Wooyoung’s. “It’s okay. Tell me.”

“I can’t feel him anymore,” said Wooyoung. 

His hands were shifting under Seonghwa’s, and Seonghwa gripped them to keep them still. “What do you mean, feel him?” he asked. “You can’t sense his presence?” Wooyoung and Yeosang had one of the strongest bonds Seonghwa had ever seen, stronger even than his own had been with Taehee. They could sense where the other was, sometimes even exactly what they were doing. The strength of their bond bordered on telepathy. 

“I can’t feel what he’s feeling,” said Wooyoung. “He closed himself off. From me.”

“I didn’t know you could do that,” said Seonghwa. Taehee had always been acutely aware of Seonghwa’s feelings, even when he’d tried to hide them.

“I can’t,” said Wooyoung. “He can.”

“He’s done it before?” asked Seonghwa. 

“Once,” said Wooyoung. He swallowed. “A long time ago. It was some time after Jisung died. It was pretty bad then, you know. We couldn’t feed enough, we were always hungry and Yeosang, he just kept getting weaker and weaker…” His eyes glistened with tears, and he blinked to try and force them back, but they remained. “He thought he was going to die. He didn’t want me to know, so he closed himself off from me.”

Seonghwa pulled Wooyoung into his arms. He looked so hurt Seonghwa couldn’t stop himself. He’d heard before about what they’d suffered during the peak of the vampire hunting years, but it crushed his heart every time. Hearing Wooyoung say it with such raw pain was like a silver knife sliding in his chest.

“That was when I told him,” said Wooyoung, voice steady and dry. “We were going to live together and die together. I wasn’t gonna let him leave me.” He swallowed again. “But now…”

“Hey, he’s not going anywhere,” said Seonghwa, pulling away so he could look at Wooyoung’s face. He wasn’t crying, which was a relief. “And he’s not in any danger.”

“I know,” said Wooyoung. “But he’s hiding something from me, and I don’t like it. I keep thinking about back then, hyung. I was really scared I’d lose him.”

“I know,” said Seonghwa. He found Wooyoung’s hands again and squeezed them. “But you won’t now. You guys are both safe and happy here, and he’s not going to leave.”

Wooyoung bit his lower lip, dropping his gaze to their linked hands. He didn’t look any less troubled.

“You need to talk to him,” said Seonghwa. “Ask him what’s bothering him.”

“Huh?” Wooyoung looked up. “We don’t do that.”

“Do what?” Seonghwa didn’t understand.

“Talk,” said Wooyoung, like it was obvious. “We don’t talk. We don’t need to. I’ve never had to ask him what’s wrong. I just know, and then I fix it.”

“Obviously that’s not working right now,” said Seonghwa. “Talk to him directly, Woo. If something really is bothering him, you should know. If you want I can be there too, but you need to talk.”

Wooyoung was silent for a moment, thinking it over. “Can you ask him?” he said finally.

Seonghwa sighed. “Wooyoung, you should—”

“I will,” said Wooyoung, cutting him off. “I will, I promise, but can—can you ask him first? Just—just so I know he doesn’t hate me.”

“He’d never hate you,” said Seonghwa. Yeosang would hate everything else in the entire world before he’d hate Wooyoung. 

“Just please,” said Wooyoung, grabbing Seonghwa’s hands in a tight grip. “Please, hyung.”

He looked so earnest, so pained, Seonghwa couldn’t refuse. “Okay, I will,” he said. “But I promise, Yeosang doesn’t hate you. I don’t think he physically can. Which should tell you how much he cares about you, because you’re really annoying sometimes.”

It was a poor attempt at lightening the mood, but Wooyoung smiled weakly anyway. “Not only is that mean, it’s a total lie,” he said. “I am perfect.”

Seonghwa laughed and ruffled Wooyoung’s hair, and Wooyoung squawked indignantly before he tried to fix it. 

“You’re so lucky I can’t choke you to death,” he huffed.

You’re lucky,” shot back Seonghwa. “If you killed me Jongho would avenge me.”

Wooyoung snorted, and grinned, more relaxed than before. When Seonghwa had to get up to get ready, Wooyoung only grumbled and let him go.

He picked out a black sweater, layering it with a double breasted wool coat in caramel and a checkered scarf. It was supposed to be a little warmer tonight, perhaps too warm for the look, but Seonghwa wanted to wear it and so he would. He wore full base makeup, as always, in case they went somewhere brightly lit. For the first time in awhile Hongjoong had chosen where they’d go for their date, and he had insisted on keeping it a secret.

A thrill ran through Seonghwa at the thought. He was going on a date with Hongjoong. It didn’t feel real sometimes, but it was true. Seonghwa and Hongjoong were dating. Hongjoong let Seonghwa kiss him, and sometimes even initiated when he was sure no one was watching. Seonghwa had held his hand, felt the roughness of his skin against his own. Hongjoong smiled when he looked at Seonghwa, a real, unburdened look of happiness, and whenever he did Seonghwa would feel bubbles rise and pop in his chest. They were dating, and Hongjoong was happy with Seonghwa. It was almost too good to be true. 

When he went downstairs he saw that Wooyoung had left, but Jongho was there, tapping at his phone. He put it down when he spotted Seonghwa.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“I don’t know yet,” said Seonghwa, with a smile. “I’ll be back before sunrise, don’t worry.”

Jongho was silent a moment, thinking something over. And then he asked, “What’s he like?”

“He’s amazing,” said Seonghwa. He knew who Jongho was asking about.

“So when can I meet him?” asked Jongho. 

He was nervous. Other people wouldn’t have been able to tell, but Seonghwa knew Jongho too well. “Soon,” he said, and it didn’t feel like a lie. Hongjoong obviously liked Seonghwa, and their relationship was going well. He would be open to getting to know Jongho soon, first impressions be damned.

“He knows you’re a vampire,” said Jongho. “What’s wrong with me meeting him?”

“There are just a lot of issues,” said Seonghwa. “But you will meet him, I promise. You’ll like him.”

Jongho raised an eyebrow. “Doubt it.” He hadn’t liked any of Seonghwa’s previous boyfriends, but then again, he didn’t like many people outside their coven. He didn’t even like their entire coven half the time.

“You will,” said Seonghwa. “Now I have to go. I’m counting on you to keep the house from burning down.”

Jongho smiled. “Okay. Have fun, hyung.”

He looked so genuine Seonghwa was seized with a burst of affection and rushed forward to hug him. Jongho whined and grumbled a little too loudly, but didn’t pull away. Seonghwa considered planting a kiss on his cheek, play the obnoxious hyung to the maximum, but took mercy and only ran a hand through his hair. Jongho was grinning as Seonghwa left the house.

It was a long drive to Hongjoong’s apartment, and when he arrived at their usual corner he was only a minute late. Hongjoong hadn’t shown up yet, which was unsurprising. He had no grasp on the concept of punctuality. Seonghwa took out his phone, ready to nag Hongjoong and maybe wheedle a favor out of him, when he saw someone approaching under the streetlights. His mouth fell open.

It was Hongjoong and his hair was snow white. He wore it down, falling over his forehead and into his eyes, shining bright like a halo and lending a glow to his already ethereal features. The white caught the light of the lamps above, making it look like he was wearing a crown of stars on his head. He looked like a fairy.

Seonghwa got out of the car, entranced. Hongjoong was smiling, glowing as bright as his hair, and when he walked up to Seonghwa he looked so beautiful it was almost blinding.

“What—when did you—?” Seonghwa couldn’t speak.

“What?” asked Hongjoong, huge grin on his face.

Seonghwa gestured vaguely at him.

“Yeah, thought I’d go for it,” said Hongjoong. He ran a hand through his hair. “You like it?”

He must’ve known Seonghwa liked it, judging by the excited smile he wore, but Seonghwa still said, with utter sincerity, “So, so much.”

Hongjoong smiled, lighting up from the inside. When he smiled at him like that, Seonghwa really felt like he was looking directly at the sunrise. 

He stepped closer and without a second thought put his hands in Hongjoong’s hair. Hongjoong leaned into the touch. Seonghwa felt that same burst of happiness he felt every time Hongjoong was with him like this, relaxed and comfortable and wanting contact. He leaned forward and kissed Hongjoong. It was like kissing moonlight.

“Let’s go,” said Hongjoong. “Don’t wanna be late.”

“Let’s just not,” murmured Seonghwa. He wouldn’t mind sitting in the car with Hongjoong and kissing him all night. 

Hongjoong laughed and shoved at him. “Not when I’m the one deciding where we’re going, Peach,” he said. “Come on.”

He’d started calling Seonghwa that since their date at the amusement park, and Seonghwa couldn’t deny it made him happy every time he heard it. He didn’t even grumble as he got back in the car. Hongjoong told him which way to go once they reached the end of the street, and then they were on a busy road, heading north.

They traveled in comfortable silence. Seonghwa was used to it, from the nights Hongjoong let him drive him home, when his shift ended too late and he’d just lean back in his seat and recharge. Sometimes Seonghwa would talk and joke, but most nights he’d let Hongjoong ride in silence and peace. Not only was Seonghwa glad to ease his burdens and spend time with him, but Hongjoong would always kiss him before he got out of the car at their corner, so it was more than worth it.

They drove through brightly illuminated streets, and Seonghwa saw now that Hongjoong’s hair was not pure white, but rather silver. It suited him, added another sort of mysterious beauty different from the fire red. Seonghwa wished now he’d taken more pictures of Hongjoong while he’d had the red hair. He wondered how long he’d have to admire the silver.

“I think I’m going to get another job,” said Hongjoong. 

That caught Seonghwa off guard. “What? Why?” 

“You know, build some savings,” said Hongjoong. “And I have some free time.”

“No you don’t,” said Seonghwa. “You’re always working.”

“Not always,” said Hongjoong, with a laugh. 

“I don’t see why you have to work so much,” said Seonghwa.

He could feel Hongjoong’s eyes on him, but kept his own on the road. He knew he sounded like a petulant child, but he couldn’t help it. It was like Hongjoong was intentionally trying to make his own life harder.

“We have, like, zero savings,” said Hongjoong. His tone was lighthearted, almost joking. “The kitchen sink keeps making funky noises, and I don’t want it exploding on me. It’s a good idea to have some extra money lying around. You know, in case of an emergency.”

“You have me,” said Seonghwa without thinking.

A pause. “Seonghwa,” said Hongjoong quietly.

This was dangerous territory. Seonghwa tried to navigate as carefully as he could. “If you need anything, you can always ask me,” he said. “I’m here. I don’t mean just money, but if you need it, you can borrow from me.”

“Like you’d ever let me pay you back,” said Hongjoong.

He was right, but Seonghwa wouldn’t admit it. “You don’t need another job,” he insisted.

“I’m sorry, but that’s not your call,” said Hongjoong. 

His mind was made up. Seonghwa drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, fighting the displeasure in his chest. He didn’t know why Hongjoong was so averse to the idea of Seonghwa helping him out, even just a little bit. It had taken so long to convince him to even let Seonghwa drop him home after work. Seonghwa wanted to make things easier for Hongjoong, he wasn’t a stranger and he cared about him so much, why couldn’t Hongjoong just accept?

“You’re upset,” said Hongjoong. 

Seonghwa didn’t answer. He was.

“I’ll be okay,” said Hongjoong. He leaned over to put his hand on Seonghwa’s arm, which was unfair. He knew how weak Seonghwa was to his touch. “I’ve taken on a lot more before.”

“But you don’t need to,” said Seonghwa.

“Yeah, I know,” said Hongjoong. “But I’m dumb like that, you know? I wanna do it.” 

Seonghwa glanced at him, at his grin and his new silver hair, and huffed a sigh. Hongjoong laughed and ruffled his hair fondly.

“Don’t do that,” grumbled Seonghwa. “You’re ruining my hair.”

“Not sorry,” said Hongjoong, sticking his tongue out. “I’m wearing the shoes I touched up last week, did you see?” He slid down his seat as far as he could to lift one leg. “Look.”

“Stop trying to get my attention,” said Seonghwa, batting at him with a hand. “I’ll crash the car and end up killing us both. They look amazing. I’ll take a better look after we get to wherever we’re going, okay?” 

Hongjoong was satisfied with that, and sat back up in his seat. 

Only recently had he started sharing his art with Seonghwa. Mostly clothing and accessories he had modified, though he did sometimes send pictures of pencil sketches on notepad pages. Seonghwa treasured them all. Not only were they beautiful, vibrant and full of life and uniquely Hongjoong, but it meant Hongjoong trusted him enough to share something he obviously treasured. His art was yet another part of Hongjoong Seonghwa admired beyond words.

“Hongjoong,” he said. “Would you paint something for me?”

Hongjoong started. “What?” 

“If you’re comfortable with it,” said Seonghwa, risking a glance at his face. There was surprise there, and a touch of pink. 

“I—sure, yeah,” said Hongjoong. “I mean—okay. What do you want?”

“You decide,” said Seonghwa. “And this isn’t a request. I want to commission you.”

The mood shift was immediate. “You cannot be fucking serious,” said Hongjoong. 

“I am,” said Seonghwa. He glanced at him again. “So it’s a yes?”

“You can’t keep trying to get me to take your money,” said Hongjoong. “I’m not—I’m not a charity case.”

“Of course you’re not!” Seonghwa turned to face him. “How could you think I’d think that?” 

“Then what are you trying to do?” asked Hongjoong.

“I just want you to paint something for me,” said Seonghwa. “And I know how busy you are so I’d feel bad knowing I was taking up your time for nothing.”

“Doing something for you isn’t for nothing,” said Hongjoong.

He said it so plainly, so directly, but his words hit something in Seonghwa’s chest, nearly overwhelming him. “Thank you,” he said. “But I mean it. Please, Hongjoong. For my own peace of mind.”

For a moment he thought Hongjoong might refuse. But then he sighed and said, “Only ’cause you asked.” 

“Yes, thank you,” said Seonghwa, so happy he could’ve bounced in his seat. “You can paint whatever you want, as long as you think of me while you do it.”

“That shouldn’t be too hard,” said Hongjoong, lazy grin sneaking onto his face. “Peach.” Seonghwa smiled at that, and he thought he saw Hongjoong smile even wider.

Hongjoong navigated him through more intersections and turns, sometimes checking on his phone for directions. It was a part of the city Seonghwa didn’t remember having been to before. There were no commercial skyscrapers, but smaller one storey buildings, fewer chain stores with their glaring neon lighting and more family-owned businesses. 

“Here,” said Hongjoong. “Pull over.”

It looked like a typical street lined with boring shops, but Seonghwa did as asked. As he undid his seatbelt he said, “You know, if there’s something wrong with your kitchen plumbing and you didn’t directly break it, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to fix it. It’s written in the property laws of Seoul.”

“What? How do you know that?” Hongjoong laughed. “You sound like a landlord.”

Seonghwa pursed his lips. 

“Oh, god, yuck,” said Hongjoong, making a face. “You are a landlord.” 

“You don’t have to sound so disgusted,” said Seonghwa. “Is it my fault I own things?”

“You’re a landlord, Seonghwa,” said Hongjoong, still with that fake outrage. “I had no idea I was dating a landlord! You should’ve told me before. Now I feel unclean.”

Seonghwa laughed, frowning too, and Hongjoong cackled in satisfaction before climbing out of the car.

They’d parked in front of a line of stores, nothing special. Hongjoong led them forward on foot, and then down a narrow path between two buildings. It opened into another street, and a few feet down it was a plot of land. 

There was no building, only green. Seonghwa peered at it, at the lush plants at the front, the lines of hanging pots with creeper vines spilling over the top, the larger trees at the back. There was a small sign in front, lit with yellow.

“Ta-da,” said Hongjoong, spreading his arms out. “It’s a nursery.”

“It is,” said Seonghwa, surprised. 

“You like plants and stuff, right?” said Hongjoong. “At first I thought we could go to a botanical garden or something, but they all close by sunset. So I found this place. It’s the biggest nursery that stays open at night. You can pick whatever you want, and I’ll buy it for you.” He beamed.

Seonghwa blinked at him. “I didn’t think you’d remember.”

“Ouch,” said Hongjoong, clutching his chest. “That’s mean. I do listen to what you say, you know.”

“No, I know, I’m just…” Seonghwa sought the words. “I didn’t know you’d do this. I don’t even remember telling you.”

“Yeah, well, I remembered, that’s what’s important,” said Hongjoong. “Come on.”

The inside was built like a garden, paved paths surrounded by plants in plain pots. The employee at the gate told them they were free to wander, and to holler or return to her if they found something they wanted to buy.

And so they wandered the greenery, just the two of them. Seonghwa was still stunned. It wasn’t that he’d thought Hongjoong thoughtless or inattentive, of course not, but he was still caught off guard. When had he even told Hongjoong about his gardening hobby?

He’d just turned a corner when, without warning, Hongjoong slid up beside him and wrapped an arm around his waist. 

Seonghwa started, taken aback. He looked down at Hongjoong wide eyed.

“You don’t have to look so surprised,” said Hongjoong, grinning.

“I thought you didn’t like this sort of thing,” said Seonghwa.

“But you do,” said Hongjoong with a shrug. “And I don’t not like it…” His ears and cheeks were tipped with pink. 

It was amazing how Hongjoong could make Seonghwa imagine warmth so vividly. He could almost feel it now, blooming inside, from his chest reaching down to the ends of his fingers. He put his arm around Hongjoong’s shoulders, pulling him in for a brief squeeze. Hongjoong fit against Seonghwa’s body perfectly.

They walked close beside each other, hands linked. Seonghwa could hardly believe it was real. He felt as though he was walking in a fantasy, among the vibrant green foliage and golden glow of the sodium bulbs, with Hongjoong by his side and fingers interlocked with his.

Hongjoong looked ethereal. Like living moonlight walking among the leaves. Like fae, or an elf, enchanting, dangerous in the way he drew Seonghwa in. He had Seonghwa utterly in his power. Seonghwa wondered if Hongjoong knew. He wondered if he wasn’t throwing himself in something too deep to climb back out of.

Hongjoong noticed Seonghwa’s eyes on him and turned to look at him, smile on his lips, eyes shining like starlight. “What?” he asked, glowing.

I love you. The words nearly slipped from Seonghwa’s tongue before he stopped them. He shook his head. “You look beautiful,” he said.

Hongjoong threw his head back and laughed, which is what he did when he was flustered by a compliment. “Thank you, Peach. You look good tonight too.”

Seonghwa smiled at him, trying to suppress the overwhelming feelings building inside him. He brushed through Hongjoong’s hair with his free hand, enjoying the softness against his fingertips, the way Hongjoong blinked and looked at him with a soft gaze. He leaned in and pressed a kiss to his lips. 

“Thank you, Hongjoong,” said Seonghwa. He smiled. “Now let’s find the most expensive plant here and make you even more broke.”

Hongjoong laughed, brighter than the full moon. Seonghwa squeezed his hand and walked with him. 

Chapter Text

Things were moving faster than Hongjoong could have ever imagined.

He went out with Seonghwa almost every night he could, sometimes even on nights he shouldn’t, meeting him after work and insisting he wasn’t tired. He got his shifts rearranged so that he’d have more free time at night. If either of them were too busy to meet they would text, almost nonstop, and when Hongjoong got the chance he’d call just to listen to Seonghwa’s calm, measured voice break into giggles when Hongjoong teased him.

He guessed he should be more careful, take things slow, but he couldn’t help it. His first kiss with Seonghwa had thrown him past the edge, and Hongjoong had nothing to hold to slow his fall.

They went out to galleries, to exhibits, to parks and plays. They went to the movies one night after Hongjoong had the closing shift at the record store. He’d been so tired he fell asleep within the first half an hour. He woke up long after the movie ended, and only because an employee had shown up to ask them to leave.

“Sorry,” mumbled Hongjoong, rubbing his face as they walked out. “You should’ve woken me up.” He’d fallen on Seonghwa’s shoulder, and Seonghwa hadn’t moved the entire time to make sure he didn’t wake up. 

“I could tell you needed the rest,” said Seonghwa. “You should’ve told me before. We could’ve rescheduled.”

“I didn’t think I’d fall asleep,” said Hongjoong with a sheepish laugh. 

Seonghwa looked at him and frowned. Hongjoong knew what was coming and braced himself for it.

“You work too much,” said Seonghwa. The usual opening line. 

“I’m fine,” said Hongjoong. The usual response. 

He expected Seonghwa to sigh or grumble like he usually did, so Hongjoong could kiss him and end the conversation, but this time he did something different. He stopped walking and took one of Hongjoong’s hands in both of his and said, very quietly, “I’m worried about you.”

He looked so sincere Hongjoong felt his heart melt like butter under sunlight. “I’m sorry, Peach,” he said. “But I’m okay, I promise.”

“Don’t push yourself too much,” said Seonghwa. 

He wasn’t in the mood for joking, and Hongjoong could tell. “I won’t,” he said. “And I’ll tell you if I’m tired or sleepy next time, okay?”

Seonghwa nodded, and raised Hongjoong’s hand to his mouth to press a kiss to the back of it. 

And Hongjoong just kept falling.

After that he stopped taking extra shifts and working overtime. He also didn’t take the extra job he thought he would. The painting Seonghwa had asked from him took up more of his time and energy than he’d expected, and he decided he didn’t have enough left over for another job. Hongjoong slowly got more comfortable with the idea of Seonghwa commissioning him. He couldn’t deny he liked the thought of Seonghwa as one of those rich nobles in Renaissance-era Europe, essentially paying Hongjoong’s entire monthly budget for one painting. When he’d first suggested the amount Hongjoong’s jaw had dropped.

“Too little?” asked Seonghwa. “I’m sorry, I’ve never done this before.”

“Are you kidding?” demanded Hongjoong. “Too little, like what the—are you for real? That’s way too much!”

“You’re an artist, Hongjoong,” said Seonghwa seriously. “I’m asking you to create something for me. Just tell me if it’s enough, or if you need more for the materials or anything else.”

“I’m not an artist,” said Hongjoong, bewildered. “I’m just a guy, I can’t accept that much.”

Seonghwa looked at him, sighed, and then yanked his beanie down to cover his eyes.

“Hey!” said Hongjoong indignantly, pulling it back up and trying to fix his hair. “What was that for?”

“For saying dumb things,” said Seonghwa. “You’re getting that much. Tell me later if you need more.”

Hongjoong protested, but Seonghwa had his way. Hongjoong had never been too fond of the rich, but he decided if anyone deserved ridiculous amounts of money, it was Seonghwa.

They explored new places together, or checked out old spots. Sometimes they didn’t want anything but each other’s company, which was how Hongjoong found himself here, in the backseat of Seonghwa’s car, legs over Seonghwa’s lap while they kissed lazily. They were supposed to go see a musical, but the tickets remained in Seonghwa’s jacket pocket, long forgotten.

Seonghwa moved down to trail kisses down his neck, and Hongjoong took the chance to pull away for a moment. “Are you okay?” he asked. 

“Hmm? I’m fine,” said Seonghwa, lips feather-light on Hongjoong’s skin.

“You seem distracted,” said Hongjoong. 

Seonghwa straightened to meet his gaze. “Why would you say that?”

In response, Hongjoong pointed at Seonghwa’s left hand, which was sitting limp on Hongjoong’s thigh instead of snaking up his shirt to feel his bare skin.

Seonghwa sighed. “I’m sorry,” he said, moving his hand up to cup Hongjoong’s cheek. “I should be focusing on you.” He leaned forward to kiss Hongjoong again.

Hongjoong leaned back. “You should be telling me what’s bothering you,” he said. “What’s up?”

He hesitated, but in the end Seonghwa gave in. “I’ve told you about Yeosang,” he said.

“The one who has a blood bond with Wooyoung,” said Hongjoong. “Yeah.”

“Yeah,” said Seonghwa, looking a little surprised. He ran a hand through his hair. “He’s been distant recently. Wooyoung mentioned it to me and I tried to talk to him about it, but he brushed me off and said it was nothing. Now he’s not only avoiding Wooyoung, but me too. He won’t even stay inside the house.”

“Maybe he’s busy with something,” said Hongjoong.

“No, I don’t think so,” said Seonghwa. “He just doesn’t want to talk to me.”

He looked troubled, more than Hongjoong had ever seen him. He took Seonghwa’s hand in his. “Did anything happen?” he asked. “Like, why did he suddenly become distant?”

“I don’t think anything happened,” said Seonghwa. He chewed his lower lip. “I don’t know. I didn’t even notice.”

“He was trying to hide it,” said Hongjoong. “You can’t feel bad about that.”

“I guess,” said Seonghwa, settling into the seat. Hongjoong took his legs off him. “He behaved so normally before I asked him about it. In front of me, anyway. Wooyoung says he’s been closed off from him for some time.”

Hongjoong thought back to when he’d talked to Wooyoung in that diner, how he’d acted when the topic of blood bonds came up. “They’re close, aren’t they?” he asked. “Wooyoung and Yeosang.”

“Very,” said Seonghwa. “They’re like brothers.”

“They’re not,” said Hongjoong without thinking. 

Seonghwa frowned. “What?”

“I mean, they’re close, but they’re not like brothers,” said Hongjoong. He felt trapped under Seonghwa’s expression and added, “Wooyoung told me.”

“When did you talk to Wooyoung?” Seonghwa was confused. “And about—Yeosang?”

“Uh, some time ago,” said Hongjoong, suddenly embarrassed. “We… just talked. Yeosang came up. Anyway, the point is, I got the feeling Wooyoung didn’t see them as brothers. Not… like that, y’know.” 

“Oh,” said Seonghwa. He fell silent, lost in thought.

Hongjoong thought things over too. He remembered San’s reaction at that, how he’d immediately brought up the possibility of Wooyoung dating Yeosang. At that Hongjoong hadn’t given it much thought, but now it seemed significant. San never got jealous. He wondered if San really was jealous of Yeosang, or disliked him, or if Yeosang had caused any problems for him. He would’ve told Hongjoong about it if he had, wouldn’t he?

Hongjoong stopped. No, San probably wouldn’t. 

“I don’t know what to do,” said Seonghwa. “I think something happened between the two of them, but I asked Wooyoung and he has no idea. He just says Yeosang’s been acting different around him.”

“You need to corner him,” said Hongjoong. “I’ve never met Yeosang but he seems like the kind of guy who won’t let go of his problems without a hard push. You need to give that push.”

Seonghwa looked uncertain. “He doesn’t want to talk to me,” he said. “It would be better if he and Woo talked it out by themselves. I feel like an outsider butting in.”

“They’re your family, Seonghwa,” said Hongjoong. “How could you be an outsider?”

“When it comes to them, everyone is an outsider,” said Seonghwa simply. “Their bond is special.”

Hongjoong wanted to ask if it had been like that for Seonghwa, if he had loved his maker in such a special way that nobody else could compare, but held himself back. Now was not the time. He didn’t think it would ever be the time.

“If Wooyoung told you, it means he wants you to help out,” he said instead. “Corner Yeosang alone first, and if that doesn’t work, corner them both together. If Yeosang won’t talk, beat him up.”

Seonghwa laughed, and it was so good to see after seeing him so worried. “That’s what you do?” he asked. “When San and Yunho argue you just knock their heads together?”

“If I could reach, sure,” said Hongjoong, making Seonghwa laugh again.

“I guess I’ll try it,” said Seonghwa. “I’ve been trying not to be too pushy, but maybe now’s the time for a push.”

“It is,” said Hongjoong. “Whatever’s bothering him, it’ll be good to just get it out. He’ll thank you for it later.”

Seonghwa smiled. “Thank you,” he said. “I think I needed to get it out too.”

He leaned forward for a kiss, and this time Hongjoong did too. After they parted Seonghwa stayed close, eyes searching Hongjoong’s face.

“What?” said Hongjoong, with a small smile. “Anything you wanna say?”

For a moment it looked like Seonghwa would, but then he shook his head and just moved for another kiss. 

Hongjoong obliged, and then changed the subject to something lighter. “Guess what’s coming soon,” he said. 

“What?” asked Seonghwa, faint smile on his face. 

Hongjoong thought of making him guess, but he was too eager to say. He beamed. “My birthday.”

The smile dropped off Seonghwa’s face. “What?” He sat up straight. “When? Why didn’t you tell me?”

He looked so frazzled Hongjoong laughed. “It’s still some days away, don’t worry,” he said. “Just giving you a head’s up.”

“How many days?” asked Seonghwa seriously. When Hongjoong laughed again, he pouted. “I’m serious, Hongjoong! I need to prepare.”

“I’ve given you lots of time,” said Hongjoong, with a mischievous smirk. “I’m not giving you the exact date too.”

Seonghwa gave him a pained look, and Hongjoong burst into laughter and kissed him until he forgot his annoyance. Seonghwa reached for him, and Hongjoong accepted the unspoken request, swinging his legs over his lap once more. This time Seonghwa did slide his hand up his shirt.

When Hongjoong finally returned home, mood lifted and lips bruised, it was almost two in the morning and he was surprised to find San awake and in the living room.

“What are you doing up?” asked Hongjoong, kicking off his shoes. He imagined Seonghwa scolding him for leaving them on the floor, and picked them up and put them in the shoe rack.

San motioned to the notebooks scattered around him. “Dying.”

“Right,” said Hongjoong. His last exam was the next day. “Make sure you don’t stay up too late.”

“I’ll try,” said San. He laughed. “I’m almost nocturnal now, like you.” 

His late night dates with Wooyoung had had that effect on him. Hongjoong hesitated, and then asked, “How are things with Wooyoung?”

“Good,” said San. He didn’t look suspicious, which meant he’d either decided Hongjoong could be trusted with precious Wooyoung updates or he was that tired from studying. “We haven’t been able to meet up for awhile because of these stupid exams. I can’t wait until I’m done and I can cuddle him again.” He sighed wistfully.

“Okay, good,” said Hongjoong. “So everything cool with you guys? With him?”

“Yeah, everything’s fine,” said San. “Why?”

“No reason, just asking,” said Hongjoong. Which meant either Wooyoung hadn’t told San about whatever he was going through with Yeosang, or San wasn’t telling Hongjoong. Probably the latter. As far as anyone knew, he was an outsider.

He huffed as he pulled off his scarf. He was an outsider. He was just dating Seonghwa, that didn’t make him part of their family or coven or whatever they called it—

San screeched. 

Hongjoong whirled around. “What? What’s wrong?”

San pointed right at him, eyes wide. “Your neck!”

“What? What’s wrong with my neck?” asked Hongjoong, panic spiking. He rushed to the mirror hanging on the wall opposite. When he saw his reflection he stopped dead.

His neck was a map of shades of red and purple, stretching from his collarbone almost all the way up to behind his ear. Heat exploded in Hongjoong’s face and chest. Oh, he was going to kill Seonghwa. 

“He almost ate your neck,” said San. He was bouncing with excitement. “Are you dating a goddamn werewolf?”

“Sh—shut up,” said Hongjoong, trying to act unbothered. His face was on fire. “Go study.”

But San wouldn’t go study. “Oh, my god, hyung,” he cried. “You must be getting the best d—”

“Shut up,” yelled Hongjoong, already rushing out of the room. He heard San laugh hard as he fled. 

The next morning was even worse. He walked into the kitchen, trying to look dignified and unbothered, and sat at the table to have his breakfast. Yunho very pointedly looked at everything except Hongjoong. San grinned like the devil.

“So, hyung,” he said, in that fake innocent voice he did so well, “when can we meet your boyfriend?” 

“How are you even awake?” asked Hongjoong. “You were up until at least three.” He knew, because so was he, screaming at Seonghwa over text. 

“I’m used to it,” said San, brushing the question aside like a piece of lint. “Now, back to your boyfriend…” 

“You shouldn’t be,” said Hongjoong. “You’ve got classes and work during the day, you know.”

“Why are we talking about my sleep patterns?” asked San. He leaned forward over the table. “We should be talking about your boyfriend who literally almost ate you alive—”

Yunho choked on his cereal. Hongjoong half rose to thump him on the back but Yunho waved him away, face bright red. 

Even after almost killing Yunho, San wouldn’t relent. “He must be really good with his mouth,” he said, grinning from ear to ear.

Hongjoong stood up so quick his chair skidded across the floor. “You know what? I think I’m going to finish eating in my room.”

San cackled as Hongjoong made his escape. Yunho looked like he was one second away from combusting.

Fortunately for Hongjoong, San didn’t bug him for too long. The end of his exams and freedom to be with Wooyoung was enough to distract him, which was a blessing because San could be as relentless as a bloodhound when he wanted. 

Hongjoong considered asking him about Wooyoung, not only for Seonghwa’s sake but also because he didn’t dislike Wooyoung now that he thought about it, but decided against it in the end. He wasn’t supposed to know about Yeosang and the issues he was dealing with. He hadn’t even met Yeosang. 

He only hoped Yeosang and Wooyoung worked through whatever it was that was affecting them. It weighed on Seonghwa’s mind, and Hongjoong soon found out Seonghwa’s little family was very different from his own.

“I need to pick up Mingi’s blood,” said Seonghwa, one night after Hongjoong asked him where he was going after their date.

Hongjoong blinked at him, trying to compute.

“Mingi is kind of like a newborn,” said Seonghwa. They were in his car, and he kept his eyes on the road. “He can’t feed from humans, so we have an agreement with the club and they provide blood for us.”

“Oh,” said Hongjoong, because he didn’t know what else to say. He frowned, thinking about something Seonghwa had told him a long time ago. “I thought you met him five years ago? You’re… like that for so long?”

“Mingi’s a little different,” said Seonghwa tightly. It was obvious he didn’t want to talk about it, so Hongjoong didn’t ask any more. When they reached the corner Hongjoong kissed him longer than usual, and Seonghwa gave him a glowing smile.

Seonghwa obviously loved his family very much. Hongjoong couldn’t help but feel bitter that they didn’t seem to appreciate him enough in return. How could he feel like an outsider in his own family? Hongjoong didn’t give a damn about blood bonds if all they did was make Seonghwa unhappy.

Seonghwa deserved to be told by someone every day that he was precious and appreciated. Hongjoong found he was more than willing to be that person. 

And he kept falling.

One night they made plans to go somewhere different. Hongjoong wanted Seonghwa to let go for a night and forget everything else, and he needed a break too from all the work. Seonghwa jumped at the chance to take him to a club.

“I want to see you dance,” he said, and there was a desire in his dark eyes Hongjoong had never seen before.

The memory of that look was what made him pull out his tight dark jeans, the pair that had a slit cut in high on the thigh. Hongjoong gave himself a temporary tattoo right where his skin was exposed, grinning wildly as he imagined Seonghwa’s reaction. 

It was a little too cold for the sweater he picked, but sacrifices had to be made. It was black, with faint patterns of aurora green and purple, and when he raised his arms even slightly it rode up to reveal his bare middle. He styled his hair back like a white lion’s mane, put on some heavier makeup than usual. 

Hongjoong stepped back from the mirror, satisfied, until he glanced at the clock and saw he was already late. 

Yunho was in the living room as Hongjoong dashed out. San was out, thankfully, and Yunho only stared as Hongjoong hunted for shoes. 

“Uh,” he said finally. “So… when will you be home?” 

“I’ll call you,” said Hongjoong. He grinned at Yunho, saw his eyes go wide in bewilderment, and then laughed and left.

It was cold outside. Hongjoong tried to pretend like he wasn’t freezing his ass off. If Seonghwa noticed he’d nag at him to put on something warmer, and Hongjoong was not doing that. He saw the shiny black car parked as he approached the corner, a tall, lean figure leaning against it. Seonghwa was waiting for him.

“You’re late,” Seonghwa called out as he got closer. 

“I was getting ready,” said Hongjoong. 

Seonghwa smiled, a sharp contrast to his appearance. The black shirt he wore was so thin it was nearly transparent. Hongjoong could see every line and curve of his chest underneath, and he forced his gaze away. Seonghwa’s hair was parted on one side, ends of his bangs curling down to touch the edge of his eyes all lined with black. He was wearing a lace choker. It was red and black, sitting pretty against his neck, and Hongjoong was sure whatever neurons he’d had left in his brain all shut down. 

“You look good,” said Seonghwa. 

His voice snapped Hongjoong back to the present. “Thanks,” he said, twisting the ends of his hair. “You too.”

Seonghwa looked like he didn’t even hear. His eyes flicked down to Hongjoong’s waist, where the hem of his sweater had ridden up. 

He reached out, and Hongjoong laughed and grabbed his hand. “Come on,” he said. “I thought we were late?”

Seonghwa narrowed his eyes at him, and Hongjoong grinned in reply. They got into the car and set off.

During the entire drive Seonghwa glanced over at Hongjoong, eyes flicking from the road to Hongjoong’s face, or his waist, or his thighs. Hongjoong loved it. As far as he was concerned, Seonghwa deserved it for wearing that shirt. 

“You’re gonna crash the car and kill us,” said Hongjoong casually, and for extra impact he stretched his arms over his head as he said it.

“We won’t die,” said Seonghwa, trying very hard to focus on driving. 

Hongjoong hummed, not even bothering to hide the grin on his face. He picked at the rip in his jeans.

“Is that temporary?” asked Seonghwa, with the smallest motion towards his thigh.

“Drew it on tonight,” said Hongjoong.

“Ah.” Seonghwa’s eyes were still on the road ahead. “So if I put my mouth to it, it’d come off?”

Hongjoong choked on air. He saw the smirk on Seonghwa’s face and glared at him, pretending he wasn’t burning up with embarrassment. 

The club Seonghwa drove them to was nothing like the posh vibes he’d given off the first time Hongjoong had talked to him in that park. It was a lot like the vampire den where they’d first met, but in a busier, more vibrant part of the city, where people drank and danced and had fun even on weeknights. Upbeat music and red light spilled out of the front of the club. Hongjoong had never been here before, but he decided he liked it. 

Seonghwa took Hongjoong by the hand and led him forward, but just before they entered he pulled Hongjoong to the side and kissed him sweetly. Hongjoong slid a hand in his perfect hair and brought him closer, parting his lips for him, taking his tongue into his mouth. He kissed him until he needed to breathe, and then he broke away, panting. 

“Do humans get high off this?” asked Hongjoong.

“Off what?” Seonghwa’s eyes were hooded as he looked down at him. 

Hongjoong kissed him again, long and deep. “This,” he said, between heavy breaths. 

“I don’t think so,” murmured Seonghwa. 

Hongjoong hummed, watched one corner of Seonghwa’s lips rise in a half smile. Then he took Seonghwa’s hand in his again and entered the club with him.

Inside, it was warm and filled with people. Fewer than the packed heat of the vampire den, but more than Hongjoong had expected on a Wednesday night. Seonghwa navigated past bodies with ease, guiding Hongjoong to the bar. He ordered drinks for both of them. Hongjoong’s was sweet and fruity, with barely any kick in it. Good. He didn’t want to get drunk tonight. 

He tugged impatiently at Seonghwa’s tissue-thin sleeve once he’d knocked down his strawberry pink drink. Seonghwa smiled, more a smirk than anything else, and finished his own before following Hongjoong out to dance.

The beat was good and fast, and Hongjoong was still high from Seonghwa’s mouth on his. He lost himself to the music, letting it move his body. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d done this, allowed himself to let go of everything and just dance. It was freeing. 

He was brought back to the present by the weight of Seonghwa’s gaze on him. Hongjoong smiled at him, watched his tongue flick out to lick his lower lip. There were no other thoughts in Hongjoong’s mind as he slid his body against his and raised his head to kiss him.

Seonghwa tasted good, like the drink he’d had in his mouth just ten minutes ago, mint and orange and lime. His hands were at Hongjoong’s hips, gripping firmly as he worked his tongue inside his mouth, tasting every bit of him he could reach. It was a slow, long kiss, like he was trying to savor the taste of him, and Hongjoong kissed back the same, wanting it to never end. He pulled away, just a moment, just to gasp a breath, and then he was back where he belonged, his mouth attached to Seonghwa’s, his hands tangling in his hair.

Someone bumped into Hongjoong from behind, pushing him forward, and Seonghwa’s hand went from his hips to encircle his waist. He broke the kiss, but stayed close, close enough for Hongjoong to be able to count his lashes. “It’s crowded,” murmured Seonghwa. “Wanna get out of here?”

Hongjoong did.

The outside air was icy against Hongjoong’s skin. In comparison Seonghwa’s hand, on Hongjoong’s back under his thin sweater, was much warmer. His lips were warm too, probably from Hongjoong’s own. The thought was exhilarating. 

“You’re fucking gorgeous, you know that?” Seonghwa said against his lips.

Hongjoong gasped in faux outrage. “You swore.”

“Hmm?” Seonghwa was preoccupied, leaving lingering kisses at the corner of Hongjoong’s mouth.

“You said fucking,” said Hongjoong, grinning.

Seonghwa pulled away and gave him a look. “That’s not a swear.”

His response was so unexpected Hongjoong burst into laughter. Seonghwa smiled, and was about to move closer when he stopped abruptly. 

He pulled his phone out of his pocket—Hongjoong had no idea how it even fit in there, Seonghwa’s pants were so tight they might have been painted on—looked at the screen, and sighed. “Sorry, I need to take this,” he said.

He still waited until Hongjoong shrugged and said it was okay, and then Seonghwa picked up. He didn’t wander away to talk, instead keeping his arm around Hongjoong, fingers dancing across his skin. 

Hongjoong tuned out the words, uninterested. Seonghwa was probably dealing with rich people things. The conversation went on and on, and Hongjoong found himself getting bored. They’d been doing something very important before being interrupted. His eyes fell on the ruby red stud in Seonghwa’s ear. 

Hongjoong closed his teeth around his earlobe and yanked.

Seonghwa yelped. Hongjoong laughed gleefully, expecting him to push him away or at the least shoot him a look. Instead, Seonghwa entwined his fingers in Hongjoong’s hair and very firmly directed his mouth to his neck.

Hongjoong froze, taken aback by his boldness. Before he could react, Seonghwa sighed and lowered the phone from his ear. 

“I’m really sorry,” he said. “I need to go.”

“What?” Hongjoong’s face fell. “Go where?”

“I need to handle some stuff at the club,” said Seonghwa. He saw the look on Hongjoong’s face and continued, “The club where we get the blood for Mingi from. They have records and paperwork and all sorts of things.” He sighed again. “I need to talk to one of the owners, and he won’t be there after midnight. I’m really sorry, Hongjoong.”

“You really need to go?” asked Hongjoong, not moving away. 

Seonghwa nodded, mouth pulled down into a frown.

“Will it take a long time?” asked Hongjoong. He ran a hand through his hair. “Then, y’know, maybe I could go with you, and afterwards we could go somewhere else…?” 

For a moment Seonghwa just stared at him. And then he nodded quickly. 

They got back in Seonghwa’s car. He knew the way, and in a few minutes Hongjoong found himself in front of that dark, busy vampire den he hadn’t been to in so long. 

“Do you want to wait outside?” asked Seonghwa. 

“No, I’m not scared,” said Hongjoong, with a cheeky grin. Seonghwa smiled at that.

They entered the crush of people inside. Seonghwa kept a hand on Hongjoong’s back as they made their way to the back of the room and to that dimly lit hallway lined with doors he’d thought he’d never see again. Somehow Seonghwa knew which ones were occupied, because he opened the third one on the right and ushered Hongjoong inside.

“I’ll be back in a few minutes,” he said. 

Hongjoong nodded, and Seonghwa kissed his lips one last time before disappearing into the hallway.

This room was identical to the ones Hongjoong had been in before, and he sat down on the long seat attached to the wall. The last time he’d come had been when he’d tried to return the silver charm to Seonghwa. He chuckled as he remembered how that had turned out. 

The door clicked open, and Hongjoong straightened, smiling. “That was quick—” 

He stopped dead. It wasn’t Seonghwa. 

It was a young man. Not tall, but taller than Hongjoong, with hair that looked black in the dimly lit room. He was quite handsome, with large eyes and lips that curled upwards. Hongjoong had only seen that face once before, but he wouldn’t forget it.

It was him. The vampire that had attacked Hongjoong. 

He got to his feet, filled with a feeling he couldn’t describe. Outrage, maybe, that the vampire had come back to try him again, and anger. A lot of anger. Hongjoong had no idea how well he’d fare in a fight against a vampire but fuck it he was willing to try. 

And then he saw the look on the vampire’s face, and stopped. 

He was smiling.

“Shit, you’re actually here,” he said, voice high in excitement, as he entered the room and closed the door behind him. “Sooyoung-noona said she saw hyung come in with a guy but I didn’t think he’d really bring you here.”

Hongjoong fell back in doubt. Hyung?

“Right, sorry, I didn’t introduce myself,” said the vampire. He rubbed his hands together and held one out. “I’m Jongho.”

The words didn’t process in Hongjoong’s mind. He looked down at the offered hand, and then back up at the vampire.

“Jongho,” repeated the vampire. For a split second he looked nervous, and then it was gone. “I’m—I live with Seonghwa.”

Hongjoong stood like a statue. Jongho. Seonghwa’s Jongho. The boy he loved so much. The boy he used to watch for comets with, who helped him take care of his plants and balance books and keep the household running. The boy that, whenever Seonghwa talked about him he would glow with a kind of pride and adoration. 

Seonghwa’s Jongho. 

The vampire who had attacked him. 

“Do you know who I am?” asked Hongjoong quietly.

“Yeah, you’re Seonghwa-hyung’s boyfriend,” said Jongho, still smiling. 

He didn’t recognize Hongjoong. Of course, it had been one night so many nights ago, and Hongjoong’s hair had been red then instead of silver. 

He didn’t know what to say. Jongho was still standing in front of him, smiling like he was innocent. He looked like just a regular man, except he wasn’t, he was the vampire that had forced Hongjoong down and sunk his fangs into his throat. 

A click cut through the silence. Hongjoong turned to the door and locked gazes with Seonghwa.

Time stopped. Seonghwa stood frozen in the doorway, eyes wide. Hongjoong didn’t look away. He had no idea what Seonghwa saw in his eyes, but it had frozen him still, while Hongjoong stared back at him with no hesitation.

And then Seonghwa said, “Hongjoong, I can explain,” and the spell broke.

“Don’t bother,” spat Hongjoong. He pushed past a stunned Jongho and out the door. Seonghwa didn’t try to grab him, which was good. Hongjoong didn’t know what he’d have done if Seonghwa had grabbed him. 

Instead he followed him, down the hallway, into the crowd in the main area. Hongjoong roughly shoved people aside without a care. He needed to get out. He needed to never see Seonghwa’s face again. 

The air was cold outside, and Hongjoong inhaled deeply, wishing it would wash out everything in him. He started walking down the street, not caring which way he was going.

“Hongjoong, please,” said Seonghwa, following him. “Will you listen to me?”

Hongjoong whirled around. “Listen to you? Why the fuck should I?” he demanded. “Did you ever think about telling me?”

“I was going to,” said Seonghwa desperately. “I swear, I was, I just—I thought—”

“You thought what?” said Hongjoong. He balled his hands into fists, fighting the urge to push Seonghwa, get him out of his face. “You knew this entire time and you didn’t tell me. What the fuck were you thinking?”

“I promise I would’ve told you,” said Seonghwa, and he looked so upset. “I thought, later, when I could explain…” 

“I’m here now,” said Hongjoong, raising his arms. “Explain.”

Seonghwa chewed his lip. “He didn’t know…” 

“I don’t fucking care,” spat Hongjoong. “Explain why you lied to me all this time. You knew all this time. All those times you talked about how golden your brother was, you never mentioned he was the one who fucking bit me?” He laughed a bitter, mirthless laugh. “Though I guess I was the idiot, huh? I didn’t even think about how you could have found me the first time, my knight in shining armor.”

Seonghwa’s face twisted in hurt. “Hongjoong.”

“Whatever you have to say, I don’t wanna hear it,” said Hongjoong. “Goodbye, Seonghwa. Don’t talk to me again.”

He turned before he could be swayed by the pain on Seonghwa’s face and stalked down the street. This time, Seonghwa didn’t follow him. 

Chapter Text

One of Jongho’s most vivid memories was of a night many years ago. He was lying down in the decrepit apartment that had been his home, stretched out on a ratty old sofa, his head pillowed on Jihyun’s lap. She was stroking his hair, gently, lovingly, and he had never felt more content in his life.

“Jongho,” she said sweetly, voice like music. “You are a broken thing.”

That hurt, and Jongho tried not to let it show. Jihyun noticed anyway, and laughed.

“No, sweetie, that’s a good thing,” she said. “People love broken things. They love trying to fix them. Clocks, cars, antiques. People too. There are so many souls in the world drawn to broken things, filled with the ridiculous need to be the special person to fix them and make them good as new. You’ll never be without someone all your life.”

Something about her words sounded off, but Jongho accepted them anyway. She often said unexpected things like this, and sometimes he didn’t understand but he knew she was always right. “But I don’t need all those people,” said Jongho, shifting so that he could look up at her. “I have you, right?”

Jihyun smiled at him. “Of course you do, sweetie.”

Three days later she left, and Jongho found out just how much of him she had taken with her.

 

Seonghwa came down the stairs, dressed impeccably in a dark sweater and hair styled down. He hummed to himself as he picked out shoes, and then looked over his shoulder and smiled just as he was about to head out.

“Make sure you come back before sunrise,” said Jongho.

“That was just one time,” grumbled Seonghwa. “I’ll be back, don’t worry.”

He looked happy, so Jongho smiled. Seonghwa beamed back, and then he was gone. 

He’d barely been gone a minute when Mingi came down. “Where’s hyung?” he asked. “Left already?”

“Yup,” said Jongho. “Where’ve you been?”

“In my room,” said Mingi with a shrug. He paused, and then said, “He’s been going out a lot, huh? With his new boyfriend.”

It had gotten obvious enough even Mingi realized. Jongho just nodded.

“Have you, like, met him?” asked Mingi. “Is he like San?”

“I haven’t met him,” said Jongho shortly. “What do you mean, like San?”

“Like…” Mingi gestured. “Smells really good.”

“Oh.” Jongho paused. “I don’t know. Hyung doesn’t feed from him.”

“That’s nice,” said Mingi, sitting down on the couch. “I mean, I guess. I dunno.”

Jongho didn’t know what to say in response. He was saved from an awkward conversation by Mingi’s phone buzzing with a notification. Mingi looked at the screen, and his face lit up. He curled his legs up on the couch as he started tapping.

He had a boyfriend or girlfriend or someone like that. Jongho watched detachedly as Mingi smiled, chewed his lower lip, rested his chin on his knees. He was cute, in a way. Jongho could see how Seonghwa would find him cute. 

Five years since their first meeting and Jongho still could not bring himself to like Mingi. He didn’t dislike him. There was nothing to dislike about Mingi, with his honest emotions, surprisingly considerate nature and playful personality. In another life Jongho would’ve adored him. Fate had dealt him a bad hand, but he never let it weigh on him. He kept his head up and moved forward, and smiled.

And maybe that was what Jongho found so difficult to accept. Mingi was a broken thing too, but his cracks were so much prettier than Jongho’s. One day Seonghwa and the others would realize, and they’d decide they didn’t need two broken things in their house. 

That day hadn’t come yet. Jongho watched Mingi smile and wondered when it would. 

 

“What are you doing?”

Mingi started and jumped back. “Nothing,” he said quickly.

Jongho looked from his nervous face to the lit stove burner. “What were you doing?” 

He’d asked, but he wasn’t expecting an answer, and he didn’t really care. Mingi had shown up barely more than a month ago, an overgrown interloper, disgustingly sweet and dripping nectar, cute to the point of nausea. Jongho hated him. He wished he could throw him out somewhere, threaten him until he knew he wasn’t welcome here and that if he knew what was good for him he would leave. Jongho’s coven was four people. Now Mingi had shown up, and they were five.

Mingi was too stupid to register Jongho’s antipathy, which was good. Jongho didn’t want to make Seonghwa have to choose between the two of them. He already knew who would win.

The night Mingi moved in, the night Jongho realized he was actually going to join their coven and live with them, Jongho took all his vital possessions and packed them in a bag. Clothes, mostly, because he didn’t own anything else, and a few stupid sentimental items the others had given him. He’d heard Mingi’s story. He was messed up, like Jongho, but unlike Jongho he wasn’t broken inside. He was fun, he could be cute, he smiled a lot. He was loveable. 

His welcome into their home had put a timer on Jongho’s. The others might not have realized, but Jongho did. So he packed his bag, stuck it under his bed, and waited.

And now he’d found Mingi in the kitchen, hand over the stove like some brainless child. Jongho didn’t care if he hurt himself. He didn’t care if Mingi set himself on fire and burned to ash. Some part of him secretly wished he would. He was all ready to water the plants in the windowsill and leave, when Mingi suddenly spoke.

“Hey,” he said. “What does warmth feel like?”

Jongho stopped. “What?”

“Warmth,” said Mingi. He shifted awkwardly. “Like… from a fire, or when you’re wrapped up in blankets, or… just being warm.”

Jongho watched him. He looked uncertain, uncomfortable. Of course. Mingi had lost all memory of his human life, which meant he had lost all memory of his human experiences. He didn’t know warmth, or cold, or taste. All he knew was hunger.

He was a broken thing. 

“Sorry to ask you,” said Mingi, taking Jongho’s silence for something else. “I would’ve asked Seonghwa-hyung, but he’s so mushy, y’know, he’d get all emotional…” He chuckled awkwardly. “And I asked Wooyoung, but he couldn’t really explain it. It’s okay if you don’t want to, maybe Yeosang—”

“Do you have someone you love?” asked Jongho.

Mingi’s words stopped in his throat. He hesitated, and then said, “Yeah.”

“And you’ve been hugged by them?”

Mingi nodded.

“It’s like that,” said Jongho. “But instead of inside you, it’s on your skin.”

For some time Mingi didn’t say anything, lost in thought. Then he said, “Thanks.”

Jongho watched him a moment longer, then he nodded and went to water his plants. Mingi turned off the stove and left the kitchen.

The next night, Jongho zipped up his bag and took it out from under his bed. But he didn’t leave.

And when Mingi gave him a Mickey Mouse figurine the next month, Jongho put that in his bag too.

 

Wooyoung threw himself over Jongho. “Play with me.”

Jongho took the man’s entire weight easily, pulling him onto his back. He had a strength even beyond most vampires’, and could’ve held off Seonghwa at his most feral. Wooyoung’s weight was nothing in comparison.

“Please get a hobby,” said Jongho, but he shifted to get a good grip on Wooyoung. 

“I have lots of hobbies,” said Wooyoung innocently.

“A hobby you can do alone,” said Jongho. 

“Why would I need to be alone?” asked Wooyoung. “I have you, our little baby.”

Jongho shook threateningly, and Wooyoung squawked and held on tighter. 

“Where’s San-hyung? Go cling to him,” said Jongho.

“He’s studying,” said Wooyoung with a pout. “And Seonghwa-hyung is out on a date, again. Mingi’s bony.”

He didn’t mention Yeosang. Which was strange, because Yeosang and Wooyoung were always in a set, it was just a law of nature. Jongho didn’t point it out. Instead he said, “So I’m the last option.”

“Yup,” said Wooyoung sweetly.

“Then I should totally throw you off,” said Jongho. “You really want me to climb these stairs with you?”

“Like I weigh anything to you,” said Wooyoung with a slap on his chest. 

Jongho shrugged, and Wooyoung laughed from the movement. He was halfway to the stairs when the front door opened.

It was Yeosang, hair no longer brown but instead a striking white blond. He froze in the doorway, and then relaxed a little and said, “Hey.”

Wooyoung dropped off Jongho’s back. “Yeosangie,” he said, sounding half dazed. “You dyed your hair.”

“I did,” said Yeosang. He tucked a few strands behind his ear in a shy, sweet motion. “Do you like it?”

In response Wooyoung walked up to him and ran both hands through his hair. Yeosang’s eyes fluttered closed as the smallest smile pulled at his lips. Wooyoung murmured something too quiet for Jongho to hear, and Yeosang smiled more at that, tilting his head as Wooyoung continued running a hand through his newly dyed hair. 

They’d completely forgotten Jongho’s existence. It didn’t hurt, because he knew it wasn’t about him. It was just Wooyoung and Yeosang. He watched them, just a minute, before he would slip away like usual. 

Envy coiled tight and painful in his chest. This was what Jongho was supposed to have. This was what a blood bond was supposed to be like, this was the love Jongho had expected when he had accepted Jihyun’s offer. Instead all he could do was watch, as Wooyoung talked in that soft voice he used only with Yeosang, as Yeosang smiled sweetly in that way so unlike the unhappiness Jongho had recently felt around him like a mist. 

Wooyoung put an arm around Yeosang’s shoulders as he dug his phone out of his pocket. He said something, right by Yeosang’s ear, and Yeosang ducked his head and giggled. Jongho backed away, feeling like he’d intruded enough.

And then Wooyoung said, “Let me take a picture to show San.” 

The mood shift was stark. The smile slid off Yeosang’s face like water, leaving behind a dead, hollow expression. The golden glow he’d had just a second before was gone.

He looked up and made eye contact with Jongho, and Jongho wished now he’d left when he had the chance. Yeosang looked mortified. Like he’d forgotten there was an audience to his reaction, and now that he’d realized someone had seen him he was ashamed. 

“I need to go,” he said quietly, removing Wooyoung’s arm from his shoulder.

“Huh? Why?” Wooyoung looked lost, reaching for Yeosang’s arm. 

Yeosang stepped out of reach. “Sorry,” he said. “Maybe later.”

He went up the stairs without another word, avoiding both Jongho and Wooyoung’s gazes. Jongho thought of going after him, but decided against it. Now was not the time. 

He glanced over at the other. Wooyoung stood where he was, looking utterly alone.

Jongho slipped away, unnoticed.

 

He had been in the household about three months when Seonghwa got his first boyfriend. He was human, of course, and built small and petite, with big round eyes that always looked on the verge of tears. Jongho hated him from first glance. He hated the way he clung to Seonghwa, like he would blow away in the wind otherwise. It was pathetic.

His new boyfriend meant Seonghwa was out of the house more. Jongho didn’t mind. He might’ve disliked the boyfriend but he could appreciate him making Seonghwa happy. 

It was one of those nights when Wooyoung walked into Jongho’s room and plopped down on the bed beside him. 

Jongho sat up, surprised. He’d heard Yeosang leave earlier to go feed. He’d naturally assumed Wooyoung had gone with him. 

He couldn’t say he was particularly close with Wooyoung. As a rule, Jongho did not get close to anyone, but Seonghwa had attached himself to whatever remained of his heart and Yeosang had a personality that meshed well with his own. Wooyoung was completely different. His personality was loud and unbridled, like a storm, and Jongho found it difficult to bear for long.

“What’s up?” he asked, putting aside the book he’d been reading. 

“I wanted to ask you something,” said Wooyoung. “Before I do, I want you to know that whatever you say, Seonghwa-hyung will never have to know. So you can tell me honestly, okay?”

He looked serious, more serious than Jongho had ever seen him. It didn’t suit his face. 

It set Jongho on edge. “What is it?” he asked. 

Wooyoung paused, thinking his words over. Then he said, very carefully, “Do you want to be free from your maker?”

Jongho stilled. 

“Look, Seonghwa-hyung told us about what happened to you,” continued Wooyoung. He paused. “Well, he told Yeosang. What she did was fucked up. We all know it. I’m asking you if you want me to make sure she can’t do that again.”

The words hung in the air while Jongho took them in. When he finally spoke, his voice was quiet. “Do you know what you’re offering?” he asked.

“Yeah, I do,” said Wooyoung. There was no mischief in his warm eyes. 

“You’re asking me if I want you to kill her,” said Jongho. 

He said it flat, expecting Wooyoung to flinch. Wooyoung didn’t. 

“Do you want me to?” asked Wooyoung. “If she comes back she could do it all over again. It’ll be too late then.”

She wouldn’t come back. Jongho was a broken thing, he wasn’t worth coming back for. “Could you do it?” asked Jongho. “If I said yes, could you?” 

Wooyoung, bright, playful Wooyoung, who lit up like fireworks and joked and laughed all the time, nodded. 

“You’ve killed someone before?” asked Jongho.

He didn’t know why he asked. Before he could apologize and take back the question, Wooyoung answered.

“Yeah,” he said. 

Jongho stopped. That couldn’t be true. Wooyoung couldn’t have— “When?” he asked.

“Some years ago,” said Wooyoung. “After our maker died, when it was just me and Yeosang. There were some hunters that were tracking us. There were hunters everywhere, but these guys were specifically after us, I think. Two dudes, one lady. I swear I saw them all the time.”

His voice was calmer than Jongho could have ever imagined. There was no inflection to it, just fact. 

“We couldn’t feed,” continued Wooyoung, still in that measured voice. “Yeosang got really weak. I had to do something.”

“So you killed them,” said Jongho.

“It wasn’t hard,” said Wooyoung. “They didn’t expect anyone to go after them.”

“You killed them,” repeated Jongho in disbelief. Wooyoung? Bright, chipper Wooyoung?

“I did,” said Wooyoung. He read the shock on Jongho’s face and said, “It was their lives or Yeosang’s. It wasn’t a choice.”

He didn’t even pretend to feel remorse. It was like he’d said, it hadn’t been a choice for him. He had killed for Yeosang.

And now he was offering to for Jongho.

He sat still, processing what he’d learned, what he was being offered. Finally, he spoke. “You don’t have to,” he said. He swallowed. “You don’t have to do it for me. She won’t come back. You don’t need to go find her. Just let her live whatever life she’s gone off to enjoy.”

Wooyoung nodded, lips pursed. “And if she does come back?”

Jongho took a breath he didn’t need. “Then you can do what you want,” he said.

Wooyoung looked at him with eyes too serious for his face, and nodded once more.

 

A few nights after Yeosang revealed his blond hair, Wooyoung dyed his silver and tinted it with purple.

“We kinda match now, don’t we?” he asked, huge grin on his face as he threw his arm over Yeosang’s shoulders.

“That’s why you dyed your hair?” said Yeosang, laughing. “To match with me?”

“The fact is, you were getting too good-looking,” said Wooyoung, with a poke to Yeosang’s side. “We’re a pair, Yeosangie. I had to catch up.”

“Looks more like you were trying to pull us down,” said Yeosang with a smirk.

Wooyoung squawked, offended. “That is so rude! And not even close to true!”

Yeosang grinned. 

“Look, we look so good together,” said Wooyoung, pulling Yeosang in close. “Jongho, quick, take a picture of us.”

Jongho noticed the change in Yeosang’s mood, and hesitated. “Maybe later, hyung.”

“Oh, come on,” said Wooyoung. He was bouncing up and down in impatience. 

Jongho hung back, but Yeosang sighed and said, “Just take the picture, Jongho. He’ll never stop screeching otherwise.”

So he got off the couch and took a couple of pictures. Their vampire eyes glowed yellow and demonic, but otherwise the pictures turned out decent. Wooyoung smiled brightly, radiating happiness. Yeosang reflected his joy. 

Wooyoung was right. They did look good together.

With the photo session done, Wooyoung got busy inspecting them and transferring them to his phone. Yeosang silently went upstairs. Jongho followed.

“Hyung,” he said, when they’d reached the first floor and were far enough from Wooyoung. “Is everything okay?”

“Hmm?” Yeosang blinked at Jongho, and then smiled. “Everything’s fine. Why?”

It didn’t look fine. Another time Jongho would’ve butted out and let him be, but he was concerned. “You’ve been different lately,” he said.

“Really? You too?” Yeosang sighed dramatically. “Like I told hyung, I am fine. Just a little low energy. Probably because I have to layer on a thousand jackets to fit in outside.”

It was a poor excuse, and they both knew it. Yeosang was probably hoping Jongho would understand and let him go. Jongho understood, but he was not letting go.

“Did Wooyoung-hyung do something?” he asked.

“You mean aside from almost scream everyone’s ears off?” said Yeosang with a light laugh. “No, nothing different.”

Jongho paused. “Is it San?”

“No, of course not,” said Yeosang, but it was too late. Jongho had seen the way he tensed, how the smile had slipped for a fraction of a second. 

“So it’s San,” he said. “Did he say something? To you?” 

For a moment it looked like Yeosang might deny it, but then he gave up. “No, he didn’t do anything, he just…” He ran a hand through his hair. “He just exists.”

“So you just don’t like him,” said Jongho.

Yeosang shrugged, avoiding eye contact.

Silence fell as Jongho thought it over. There was only one thing connecting San to their household. Or rather, one person. 

Yeosang was jealous.

It wasn’t hard to connect the dots. Jongho knew how to use his imagination. Wooyoung had had boyfriends before, but none that he’d been so into and with for so long as San. Yeosang was used to Wooyoung being attached to him, if not physically then in thought, and San’s emergence as a contender for Wooyoung’s attention could not be welcome. It made sense. 

“You know,” said Jongho finally, “San is human.” 

“Yes, I know,” said Yeosang, now frowning at the floor.

“Humans die.”

Yeosang looked up at Jongho. His face was blank.

“He’ll get old and wrinkly,” said Jongho. “Wooyoung-hyung will get tired of him eventually. If not soon, then when he gets old. But you’re with us forever.”

For a long moment Yeosang didn’t answer, only looked at Jongho with that same empty expression. “Right,” he said finally, but there was still no emotion on his beautiful face.

“If it really bothers you, you could just tell Wooyoung-hyung,” said Jongho. He’d pick you. You have a blood bond, and that means something.

“No, it’s nothing I can’t get over by myself,” said Yeosang. He smiled, but there was something hollow about it. “Thank you, Jongho.”

He turned and walked away, leaving Jongho alone in the hallway. 

 

He was small, and pretty, just like Jongho had expected. His hair was silver, almost glowing under the lights, and he was dressed in a very short sweater and very tight pants. Exactly Seonghwa’s type.

Jongho was so excited he got ahead of himself, and he had to rein it in. “Right, sorry, I didn’t introduce myself,” he said. He rubbed his hands to warm them up a bit, because he knew humans liked it, and then offered one for a handshake. “I’m Jongho.”

The human stared at his outstretched hand, and then back up at him. 

“Jongho,” repeated Jongho. Nerves hit—had Seonghwa not told him about him? Was Seonghwa trying to hide Jongho because he was broken?—but he forced them down. “I’m—I live with Seonghwa.”  

The human just looked at him, lost in thought. “Do you know who I am?” he asked finally.

“Yeah,” said Jongho, smiling in what he hoped was a friendly way. “You’re Seonghwa-hyung’s boyfriend.”

He didn’t get anything in response, not even a name. Jongho was about to try again when the door opened and Seonghwa entered.

The atmosphere went taut as a string. Jongho stood where he was, watching Seonghwa, then his boyfriend, wondering if he should say something or apologize or leave.

“Hongjoong, I can explain,” said Seonghwa. 

“Don’t bother,” said the human, face twisting in anger. He stormed past Jongho, who was too stunned to react. Seonghwa followed the human without a second glance back. 

And Jongho was left alone.

He didn’t understand. He knew he’d done something wrong—it was obvious he’d done something wrong—but he didn’t know what. Seonghwa’s boyfriend hated him. Why?

Had Seonghwa told him something about Jongho? Did the boyfriend know Jongho was a broken thing, so worthless even his maker had decided he wasn’t worth keeping? 

He left the feeding room. The hallway beyond was empty, so he went out to the main area, where all the humans danced and drank and enjoyed themselves. The human Seonghwa had called Hongjoong looked like he wanted to leave, and Seonghwa had followed him. Jongho went outside too.

He saw Seonghwa in the distance, talking to the short human. And then the human stormed off, and Seonghwa just stood there.

Jongho approached cautiously. When he was just a few steps behind he called out softly, “Hyung?”

Seonghwa turned around. His face was a raw picture of hurt and regret. Jongho noticed now that his hair was a mess, and he was breathing too, chest rising and falling heavily. His eyes glistened under the streetlights. He bit his lower lip. 

He was going to say something hurtful. Jongho knew it, and braced himself for it. He deserved it after all, he’d made Seonghwa argue with his boyfriend, and tonight was the night he’d finally realize Jongho wasn’t worthy of living with him—

“I’m so stupid,” said Seonghwa. He kicked at the ground in frustration, and then whirled around to show Jongho his back again as he pulled at his hair with both hands. Jongho stepped back and turned away. He knew Seonghwa didn’t like getting emotional in front of him or the others. He was supposed to be their steady guide and protector.

After what felt like hours Seonghwa faced him again, calmer than before. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I want to go home. Did you feed? Then we can go together.”

He was trying so hard to sound normal, even though he wasn’t. Jongho pretended like he didn’t hear anything wrong and nodded. 

Seonghwa drove. He was dressed up, Jongho noticed, in heavy makeup and with a choker around his neck. His lip tint was smudged. He and his boyfriend had been having fun before they’d come to the club. Before Jongho had shown up.

“Hyung, I’m sorry,” he said quietly.

Seonghwa pulled over so suddenly Jongho gripped the seat. “You don’t need to say sorry,” said Seonghwa, looking Jongho right in the eyes. “You made a mistake but that’s in the past. Nothing that happened tonight was your fault. Don’t say sorry.”

“What did I do?” asked Jongho. He wasn’t stupid, he knew Seonghwa was lying. This had to be his fault. 

For a moment Seonghwa fell silent, chewing his lower lip. Then he sighed. “Do you remember that time you fed from a human who’d wandered into one of the feeding rooms?” he asked. “I stopped you and made you leave.”

“I remember,” said Jongho. That had been months ago. 

“That was him,” said Seonghwa. “Hongjoong.”

Jongho frowned, trying to remember the human’s face. It had been a man, and short. He couldn’t recall any specific features.

“He didn’t know I knew you,” said Seonghwa. “That’s why he… that’s why he’s upset.”

“Oh.” Jongho thought it over. “Why is he mad at you? You didn’t do anything.”

“Yeah, that’s kind of it,” said Seonghwa with a bitter smile. “I didn’t tell him.”

“So? It’s not anything you did,” said Jongho, not understanding. Seonghwa did nothing wrong.

“I didn’t tell him,” said Seonghwa, like he was talking to a child. “I should’ve. I thought I would, just when the time was right…” He looked away, brows furrowed.

“I ruined it,” said Jongho.

“You didn’t know,” said Seonghwa at once. “This is all my fault. I’m sorry. Did he say anything to you?”

“He just asked me if I knew who he was,” said Jongho. “He didn’t really… say anything.”

“Okay,” said Seonghwa, nodding. “That’s good. Because I don’t want you to feel bad for anything, okay?”

And Jongho just nodded back, because he knew Seonghwa was trying so hard to stop him from blaming himself. He would try, for Seonghwa’s sake, even if they both knew the truth.

The rest of the ride was silent. Only as they were pulling in did Seonghwa say, “Is it okay if you don’t tell the others about this? I don’t… I just don’t want anyone to know.”

The calm mask was cracking around the edges, but he was still holding it together. For Jongho’s sake.

“Okay, hyung,” said Jongho.

Seonghwa smiled at him, and Jongho forced a smile back.

 

Seonghwa cried, but he didn’t let anyone see. Jongho knew anyway.

It was obvious when he didn’t leave his room the entire night, not even when Mingi and Wooyoung stood in front of his closed door and whined at him to come out. 

“I’m tired,” yelled Seonghwa through the door. “Leave, brats.”

He was better at sounding normal through a solid wood door. Jongho wasn’t fooled. He’d lived through many of Seonghwa’s breakups, and they all involved secret tears and fake smiles. 

But this one felt a little different.

Seonghwa didn’t come out of his room. At all. Usually he would after one or two nights, looking haggard and insisting he was okay, but it had been nearly a week now and still none of them saw his face. Jongho was concerned, for more reasons than one. He didn’t know the last time Seonghwa had fed.

He kept his word and didn’t tell any of the others what had happened, or that he’d been the one to cause Seonghwa all this pain. But it didn’t take long for them to figure out the cause of Seonghwa’s change in mood.  

“We need to do something,” said Wooyoung one night, while the four of them were gathered in the living room. It was a rare event now, with Yeosang putting so much effort into avoiding them, but they were able to manage it. “Who cares if his boyfriend dumped him? He needs to get out of there.”

“He can’t just stay like that forever,” said Mingi, chewing his fingernails. “He’ll die.”

“He won’t die,” said Yeosang calmly. He sat beside Wooyoung, offering comfort with his proximity and a hand on his shoulder. 

“He hasn’t fed in a while,” said Mingi.

“Which is why I know he’ll snap out of it soon,” said Yeosang. “He needs to leave his bed to feed, and once he gets up we’ll just keep him from going back.” He sighed. “I don’t know why he’s being like this. He’s just a damn human.”

“I’m worried,” said Wooyoung, shifting nervously. “We should do something.”

“We should at least get him blood to drink,” said Mingi. 

“If we feed him he’ll have less motivation to get up,” said Yeosang. 

They argued about it for some time. Jongho mostly sat in silence. Yeosang was unofficially the second head of the household, but things were always tricky when it concerned Seonghwa, and they went back and forth for a while. In the end they decided they would not bottle feed him, but one of them would get inside his room and check up on him.

“We vote,” said Wooyoung. “Whoever thinks Jongho should go, raise your hand.”

Three hands went up in unison. Jongho looked at the other vampires and said, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“He loves you the most,” said Wooyoung. “You’re like his big, freakishly strong little baby. If I went in he’d probably rip me in half.” 

But Wooyoung hadn’t been the one who’d ruined his relationship. Jongho was sure the moment Seonghwa was able to process his sadness he’d be angry. He would hate Jongho, and Jongho would deserve it. Maybe he would finally realize he didn’t want Jongho around anymore.

“I don’t want to,” he said.

“No choice,” said Wooyoung. “You gotta. Go, or we’ll drag you in there.”

It was an empty threat. None of them could’ve forced Jongho anywhere, and he could’ve taken on two of them together. But their looks were stronger than his will, and he swallowed and got to his feet. 

Maybe it’s better like this, he thought, as he stared at the polished mahogany of Seonghwa’s bedroom door. Get it over with, then I don’t have to wait for it to happen anymore.

He knocked once. “Hyung?”

He was met with silence. And then, “Jongho? Sorry, hyung’s not in the mood right now.”

“I know,” said Jongho. He glanced at the end of the hallway, where Wooyoung, Yeosang and Mingi were crouched together. “Can I come in?”

“Later. I’m not—I’m not dressed.”

“Hyung,” said Jongho with an exasperated sigh, “if you don’t open the door for me I will break it down. Open up.” 

More silence. And then the click of the door being unlocked.

The others scrambled downstairs. Jongho squared his shoulders and opened the door.

It was dark inside, room lit only by the bedside lamp. The curtains were drawn, which was unusual for Seonghwa because he loved looking at the sky. Seonghwa was already climbing back into bed. He didn’t want to show Jongho his face. Jongho would respect that.

“Hyung,” he said softly, sitting on the opposite side of the bed. “We’re worried about you.” 

Seonghwa curled up under the covers, away from him. “I’m fine.”

He wasn’t, that’s why Jongho hadn’t asked him. He hesitated, not knowing what to say, but he didn’t have to push.

“I called him, but he won’t answer,” said Seonghwa. “And I sent him a thousand messages but he won’t reply. Not even to tell me if it’s—it’s over. I don’t know what to do.” 

He sounded so small and sad. Jongho didn’t know what to say to make things better.

He tried. “I don’t think it’s over,” he said. 

“He won’t talk to me,” said Seonghwa, voice thick. “I can’t tell him how sorry I am because he won’t listen. He won’t even tell me he hates me and that it’s over and I should give up. What am I supposed to do?” He shifted, and Jongho caught a glimpse of something gray and plush in his arms, clutched to his chest.

“I’m sorry,” said Jongho, because he was, and he didn’t know what else to say.

“It’s my fault, I knew I should’ve told him,” said Seonghwa, voice muffled as he pressed his face into the stuffed animal. It was a raccoon. “He hates me.”

No one could hate you, thought Jongho, looking at Seonghwa’s curled up form under the covers. Love attracted love, and Seonghwa had enough love for so many, even the worst. He had enough love for Jongho. 

“I love him,” murmured Seonghwa.

Of course he did. Jongho remembered the look on his face when the human had left him on that empty street, what his voice had sounded like when he’d tried so hard to pretend like he was okay. Of course he loved him.

“I’m sorry,” said Jongho again.

This time Seonghwa didn’t say anything. But he shifted backwards, closer to Jongho, an unspoken request. He wanted to be held.

Jongho hated cuddling. He hated close contact, the feeling of someone pressed against him, attached like a vine. But he climbed into the bed fully and wrapped his arm around Seonghwa’s middle, pulling his back to his chest. Seonghwa relaxed in his embrace, and any discomfort Jongho felt was worth it.

 

He didn’t feel like other people did. He didn’t cry during sad movies, he didn’t bounce in excitement or squeal with joy. He was happy when someone he loved was happy, but there weren’t many people he loved, and he couldn’t make himself love anyone more.

Jongho just didn’t feel. He had, before, when he’d been human. Before Jihyun crushed his mind and his heart, before she reshaped them into what she wanted and then yanked away the pillars she’d used to keep them up. He did not have much empathy. He had none to spare beyond Seonghwa and Yeosang and Wooyoung, and sometimes Mingi.

Seonghwa was the complete opposite. His heart was tender and overflowing where Jongho’s was burned black. He had so much love in him he gave it away freely, even to those who didn’t deserve it. He gave it to Wooyoung and Yeosang, who would leave him without a single thought so long as they had each other. He gave it to Mingi, who was too immature to understand what he was being given. He gave it to Jongho.

And he never wanted anything in return. He’d allowed them into his home, let them use his money like it was theirs, and all he asked was that they be safe. Nothing more. 

But love attracted love. Yeosang and Wooyoung stayed when they could’ve left, they made bonds with him separate from each other. Mingi returned Seonghwa’s affection with pure sincerity, taking his advice and warnings to heart and following them diligently. And Jongho felt.

Seonghwa had so much love to give, and now he’d given it to this human.

Jongho wondered, as he held Seonghwa to his chest, if one day Seonghwa’s love would run out. If he’d realize it was something finite, and he couldn’t share any more of it. If he’d decide he needed more of it to give to his stupid white-haired boyfriend, and less of it to keep with Jongho.

He’d been living on borrowed time since Mingi’s arrival into the house. Jongho wondered if this was what would finally click the button on the timer. 

After all, he was only a broken thing. 

Chapter Text

Hongjoong spent his birthday at home, with San and Yunho. He hadn’t been able to arrange all his jobs so he could have the day off, and hadn’t really bothered, since he had nowhere special to go and nothing special to do. At night San came home with a small cake, white with cream and topped with strawberries, and the three of them finished it together, but not before first slathering half the cream on Hongjoong’s face and in his hair.

“You look exactly the same as before,” said Yunho, while San nearly cried with laughter.

“Very funny,” said Hongjoong, wiping cream off his eyes and trying to sound serious. “You guys better have got me something good to make up for all of this.”

They had. Yunho had gotten him a jacket, something he’d seen in a vintage shop ages ago and had mentioned buying when he could fit it in his budget. San came out with a set of acrylic paints and a couple of brushes. Hongjoong was so touched he hugged them both, one by one.

“You didn’t need to,” he said. “I was just joking, you know.”

“We know,” said San, beaming. “But it’s your birthday, hyung. That only comes once a year.”

Hongjoong smiled at him. “Yeah. Thank you.”

And that was that. Another birthday spent with San and Yunho, Hongjoong’s family, the people he could count on no matter what. That was fine. It was more than fine, it was what he’d expected even a couple of months ago, and he was happy.

That night Seonghwa texted and called him again, and Hongjoong was so close to giving in and picking up. He had no idea what he’d say if he did. He just knew he missed him and he didn’t know if he cared about anything else anymore. But then the phone stopped ringing, and Hongjoong stared at the black screen until he had to get up and get ready for bed. 

Then it was two nights later, and San walked in carrying a pile of boxes.

“What is all this?” asked Hongjoong, coming out of the kitchen.

Yunho had come out of his room when the front door slammed shut, and now he took one of the boxes off the top of the stack. He squeaked. “This looks fancy.”

“And expensive,” said Hongjoong. The boxes were a pale pink, with some fancy logo in gold in the center. He opened the one he’d grabbed, and inside were neat rows of macaroons, colors tastefully arranged. He took a bite of one. It was strawberry, and delicious.

“Probably,” said San. He’d put down the two boxes he still had, and taken a cupcake out of one. Some of the pink frosting had stuck to his upper lip.

“Where did you get all this?” asked Yunho.

“A friend gave me,” said San.

Something about the phrasing pinged Hongjoong. “What friend?”

“A friend,” said San innocently. 

“A friend,” repeated Hongjoong. 

He fixed him with a severe look, and in seconds San gave in. “Wooyoung’s brother Seonghwa gave them to me.”

Hongjoong stopped mid-chew. Of course. Of course.

“Oh, that was nice of him,” said Yunho, maybe a little too loud, seeing Hongjoong’s reaction. “For any reason?”

“The bakery is his friend’s,” said San, keeping his eyes firmly on Yunho. “So it’s kind of like free promotion? I think he just wanted to buy them, but no one in his house eats so…” 

Hongjoong said nothing, only stared at what remained of the baby pink macaroon in his hand. He’d found out. Seonghwa had found out when Hongjoong’s birthday was, and then sent all this overpriced stuff through San the first chance he got. And Hongjoong was angry, because Seonghwa was using San, he was using him to—to—

To do what exactly? Buy Hongjoong’s forgiveness? The thought was tempting, because Hongjoong wanted to be even more angry, but he knew it wasn’t true. Seonghwa would never do anything like that. He’d given San all this stuff just because he’d wanted to. Maybe just so Hongjoong would have some. 

“He seems like a great person,” Yunho was saying, mouth half full with cupcake, this one chocolate brown. “Is he okay?” 

San frowned, suspicion touching his brow. “What do you mean, ‘okay’?”

“I mean, is he good?” said Yunho quickly. “Like, is he doing well?”

“Oh.” San sighed. “Not really. Woo says he’s been down. He broke up with his boyfriend and—”

He stopped abruptly, and both he and Yunho glanced at Hongjoong. Hongjoong ignored them. They’d noticed he’d stopped going out at night, and after a few careful inquests that he’d shut down they made sure to never mention it again. Hongjoong didn’t want to talk about it. There wasn’t really anything he could say.

“I hope he feels better soon,” said Yunho carefully.

“He seemed okay when he was talking to me,” said San. “I mean, pretty okay. He was smiling, but it didn’t go all the way up to his eyes.” He fell silent, frown tugging at his lips. 

Hongjoong pretended like he wasn’t listening, when in truth he was greedy for every word. How was Seonghwa? He still called and texted, but Hongjoong never picked up, never replied. He didn’t know what to say to him. 

He’d looked so hurt the last time they’d seen each other, but that time Hongjoong had been too angry to process it. He’d stormed off, not wanting to see Seonghwa’s big dark eyes all shiny, the way he’d chewed at his lips. He’d felt betrayed, let down in a way he’d never felt before. He let Seonghwa in close, so close so fast, and when Hongjoong found out he’d been hiding the truth from him, he’d been hurt. He’d been hurt, and angry, and he hadn’t wanted to look at Seonghwa a second more. And now… 

And now? Now Hongjoong didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know what to say, how to move forward. It was probably too late anyway. Everything was ruined. 

San didn’t say any more about Seonghwa, how he was, if he was still as hurt as the last time Hongjoong had seen him, all round eyes and smudged red lips. Instead he walked over to Hongjoong and asked, “Are you not going to eat the rest of that now?”

There was a kind of wariness to his words, and disappointment. Like a nephew talking to his racist uncle. 

“Oh, no, I’ll eat it,” said Hongjoong, shoving the macaroon in his mouth. He’d had a vampire’s tongue in his mouth; he had no problem eating things a vampire had bought. 

San pursed his lips and nodded. Then he turned to pick up the boxes and put everything away. Hongjoong watched him and was seized with a sudden impulse.

“Hey,” he said. He hesitated, knowing this was a mistake, but he couldn’t stop himself. “Tell—tell him they’re good.”

“Tell who?” San was confused.

“Nobody,” muttered Hongjoong. “Nothing.”

He went to his room, aware of both San and Yunho watching him. He knew he should be more careful but, really, what was the point now? 

Hongjoong lay down flat on the bed and stared at the ceiling. Without thinking he rolled his head to the side and his eyes caught on his bedside table. 

In the second drawer was a silver charm, attached to a fake silver chain, never worn. With it was a small dinosaur plush won from an amusement park. And stubs of tickets, cheap accessories picked up from the side of the road during walks, candy slipped into coat pockets and forgotten until later. 

He looked away from the drawer, from the memories of his time with Seonghwa, and now his eyes went to the other corner of the room, where an old sheet was draped over something propped against the wall.

The painting. His painting. It was half-finished, abandoned since that night. Hongjoong had had an idea, a big, beautiful, ambitious idea, one worthy of Seonghwa, and he’d been so excited, working on it whenever he had the chance. Layers, that was his obsession. Layers, and stars. 

Most of the canvas still had only one layer. Hongjoong was supposed to build it up, little by little, until it was complex but clear and striking. Like Seonghwa. Hongjoong hadn’t worked on the painting in a while now. Abandoned, but not forgotten. Every time Hongjoong looked at the covered corner he thought of it, and of him. 

He missed Seonghwa. Desperately. And yet at the same time Hongjoong was angry. He was angry at Jongho, that vampire that looked like such an innocent boy, that vampire Seonghwa loved so much. He was angry at himself for impulsively leaving Seonghwa on that road outside the den, for not picking up his calls or answering his texts. But more than anything he was angry at Seonghwa.

Hongjoong needed him. He needed Seonghwa, and he hadn’t needed anyone in years, not since his parents had died and he moved in with an aunt who forgot he existed half the time. Sure, there was San and Yunho, but that was different. They were family. It was normal to need family. But this, this ridiculous need for Seonghwa, this was different. Seonghwa had made Hongjoong need him, and he couldn’t stand it. 

He wrenched his gaze away from the covered canvas and glared at the ceiling.

 

Wednesday night, the only night Hongjoong didn’t have a single night shift, he got a call. 

It was Seonghwa.

Like every single time he’d called before, Hongjoong stared at the screen, torn between picking up and ignoring it. And like every single time before, Hongjoong let it ring. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to talk to Seonghwa. He just didn’t know what to say, and even the thought of responding to his texts made him freeze up. 

So he let it ring, let it fall silent. And then it started ringing again.

That was unusual. Seonghwa never called twice in one night, and never as insistently as this. Hongjoong looked at the screen with what felt like a sliver of fear. What did he want? Now Hongjoong definitely wasn’t picking up. 

He let the call ring out. He stared at his phone, half-waiting for it to start ringing again, but it didn’t. Instead it lit up with a text.

peach
hongjoong please pick up 
i need to talk to you

Hongjoong ignored that too. And then he saw the next message.

peach 
i’m outside your apartment

Hongjoong jumped out of bed. No. 

He grabbed his phone, the nearest jacket he could find. As he strode across the empty living room his phone dinged with another message.

peach 
if you don’t come down in 10 minutes i’m coming up

“Oh fuck you,” hissed Hongjoong. He thought of calling out, telling Yunho and San in their room that he was going out, but then decided against it. He was just going to yell at Seonghwa and then he was coming straight back. 

It was freezing outside, cold biting through Hongjoong’s thin pyjama pants. He ignored it as he took the elevator down. He half expected to find Seonghwa standing right in front of the elevator, but he wasn’t there. He wasn’t by the front gate of the apartment complex either. Hongjoong stalked down the road, getting more and more angry with every step he took, until he was fuming when he spotted Seonghwa’s car at the usual corner. 

Seonghwa was there, leaning against his car, straightening as he caught sight of Hongjoong. He wasn’t wearing a jacket or sweater, only a loose shirt striped in black and white. That made Hongjoong stop. Seonghwa always tried to pass as human. Always. 

“What do you want?” he asked, keeping a distance. He didn’t want to get too close. 

For some time Seonghwa didn’t answer. He just looked at Hongjoong, and Hongjoong didn’t know what to do. It was the first time he’d seen Seonghwa in what felt like eons, and a part of him wanted to jump in his arms, kiss him until he was gasping for air. Put his arms around his cold body. Seonghwa should’ve worn a coat. He hadn’t.

And then, finally, Seonghwa spoke. “I’m sorry,” he said. 

Hongjoong took a deep breath.

“I’m sorry for threatening to go up to your apartment,” continued Seonghwa. “I wouldn’t have. I didn’t know how else to get you to come talk to me.”

Somehow Hongjoong had known that. He’d still come.

Seonghwa sighed, ran a hand through his hair. “Hongjoong, please,” he said. “Tell me what I have to do to make things right. We can’t just…” He trailed off, stared at nothing.

But Hongjoong didn’t know what to say. He missed Seonghwa, but part of him was still angry. He had lied to Hongjoong. Maybe not directly, but he’d hidden the truth from him, and for so long. 

“I told you, Jongho misunderstood,” continued Seonghwa. “If he’d known you didn’t want to be bitten, he wouldn’t have done it—”

“He knew,” said Hongjoong, cutting him off. “I told him. Pretty fucking direct.”

“Yes, we talked about it,” said Seonghwa. “He misunderstood.”

“You didn’t talk about it with me,” hissed Hongjoong. “The person who got bit.”

“I was going to tell you,” said Seonghwa, no longer as calm as before. “I was, I swear.”

“When?” demanded Hongjoong. When I was even deeper into you? When I’d need you so much I wouldn’t be able to function without you? “I was the one who got pushed down and bitten on the neck, when did you think I should know? Why didn’t you just fucking tell me?”

“Because I didn’t want this,” said Seonghwa, gesturing to the distance between them. “I didn’t want you to hate me. I didn’t—I didn’t want you to be angry—”

“Well it’s too late for that,” snapped Hongjoong. “You just let me go around, not telling me you knew the vampire that bit me—”

“You said you didn’t care about that,” said Seonghwa. “When you came to see me in the club and I walked you to the end of the street, you said you didn’t care, it was just a bite—”

“That was before I knew you were lying to me,” said Hongjoong. “That was when I thought you were just someone trying to help—”

“I was!” Seonghwa looked like he was close to stomping his feet. “I am! I am always trying, always!” 

Hongjoong stared at him, and then burst into a laugh of disbelief. “Are you upset? At me?”

“Yes, I am!” cried Seonghwa. “Because I like you so much and you don’t even care! I call you and you don’t pick up, I text and you don’t answer. You won’t let me say sorry, you won’t tell me how to fix things. Do you hate me? Will you never forgive me? Then tell me now, and I’ll—I’ll stop bothering you. But stop ignoring me. I can’t stand it.” 

Hongjoong stood silent, stunned by the outburst. Seonghwa didn’t say anything either, only looked at him, chest rising and falling with heavy breaths. Then he whipped his head to the side, staring into the empty air. He blinked rapidly. 

It hit Hongjoong that he’d never seen Seonghwa cry. All of a sudden the possibility seemed terrifyingly close.

“I don’t… I don’t hate you,” mumbled Hongjoong stupidly. 

For a moment Seonghwa didn’t answer. And then he sighed, rubbed a face with a hand. “Then tell me,” he said. “What do we have to do to get back to how we were? I miss it, Hongjoong. So much.”

So did Hongjoong. He wanted nothing more than to go back to those nights, back to that one night when Seonghwa had kissed him tasting of citrus and Hongjoong had never felt more alive. But they couldn’t just jump back like that. He needed something to get past this. Seonghwa’s constant insistence that Jongho was pure, Jongho was sweet and lovely, wasn’t enough.

“I want to talk to Jongho,” said Hongjoong.

Seonghwa tensed. “No.”

“No?” repeated Hongjoong in disbelief. “You said—”

“I know what I said,” said Seonghwa. “But I can’t. He’s been through so much. I won’t—I won’t let you be unkind to him.”

“Unkind?” Hongjoong couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “He’s not a child.”

But Seonghwa would not be moved. “No,” he said. “If you’re just going to hurt him, I can’t let you talk to him.”

Hongjoong wanted to deny that, or get angry and snap at him again, but stopped himself. He remembered something Wooyoung had told him, in that diner where the three of them had talked, him and Wooyoung and San. About Jongho. About his maker. 

And he thought he understood why Seonghwa was so fiercely protective. If anything like that had happened to San or Yunho, Hongjoong would’ve ripped apart anyone he thought might hurt them.

He took a deep breath, swallowed. “I won’t,” he said. “I just want to talk. I won’t… I won’t be unkind.”

Seonghwa looked at him, like he was trying to see how much Hongjoong meant it. Then he said, “I’ll need to ask him.” 

“That’s fine,” said Hongjoong. He breathed a silent sigh of relief. A part of him had been scared Seonghwa would refuse, and they’d end, just like that. “Call him.”

“Now?” Seonghwa was surprised.

“Yeah, now,” said Hongjoong. “Call him.”

Seonghwa blinked at him, and then scrambled to pull his phone out of his pocket. 

Hongjoong watched as he dialed, as he wandered away to talk. A light wind picked up, and he suppressed a shiver. It was early November and the cold was ferocious. He still couldn’t believe Seonghwa hadn’t bothered with even a sweater. Hongjoong felt himself turning into an icicle just looking at him.

Seonghwa returned, pocketing his phone. “He said okay,” he said. “He’s at home.” He hesitated. “Where do you want to meet…?”

“Home is fine,” said Hongjoong. “Let’s go.”

Seonghwa looked like he’d been caught in a storm and lost all sense of direction. He watched, apparently stunned silent as Hongjoong climbed into the passenger seat. 

Thankfully he snapped out of it and got in the driver’s side. He glanced at Hongjoong, and cranked the heat on high. Hongjoong suddenly felt self conscious in his old T-shirt and pyjama pants, but it was too late. He wasn’t going back to the apartment and risking getting caught by San or Yunho.

They drove in silence for a while, but it wasn’t comfortable like usual. Hongjoong cleared his throat. “Who else is there?”

“Mingi,” said Seonghwa. “He’ll stay upstairs, so you won’t meet him. Wooyoung went out with friends. Yeosang might be home. I don’t know.”

For half a second Hongjoong wanted to ask if Yeosang was okay, if they’d worked out whatever problem he’d been having. But it wasn’t his place, and especially not now, so he kept his mouth shut.

“He knows, by the way,” said Seonghwa, eyes fixed on the road. “Yeosang. About… you and me. He figured it out by himself.” 

“Oh,” said Hongjoong. He hesitated. “I thought he told Wooyoung everything…” 

The corner of Seonghwa’s lip twitched. “He didn’t tell him,” he said. “I asked him not to.” 

For you. Hongjoong heard the unspoken words, whether Seonghwa meant him to get them or not.

Seonghwa continued, still not glancing at him, still so calm, “You’ve met him before. That first night you went to the club. He said he saw the three of you outside, told you where to get a cab.” 

Another thing you didn’t tell me. Now it was Hongjoong’s turn with the unspoken words. He could see them on Seonghwa’s face too. 

They went far, to that area of Seoul Hongjoong was familiar with only during his job with the delivery service. No more gray apartment blocks, packed together. Two-storied suburban houses lined the road, complete with gates and lawns and gardens. This was the kind of place people with money lived. 

Seonghwa’s house was much like the others around it. There was a vintage charm about it, with its iron gate and high, pointed roofs. It was obviously old but well kept. Hongjoong stared at the brickwork, the two rows of windows, the flowers swaying gently in the beds by the front door. This was where Seonghwa lived, a world away from Hongjoong’s cramped apartment. Where his coven lived.

He pulled up right by the front door, killed the engine. “I’m sorry, I need you to wait here a moment,” he said. “I just need to go in and check some things. Is that okay?”

He was so polite, so formal. It hurt in a completely new way. “Yeah, that’s fine,” said Hongjoong. 

Seonghwa nodded, and then climbed out of the car. 

Hongjoong watched him enter the house. He wondered what he needed to check. If Jongho was still okay with talking to Hongjoong? If Wooyoung had come back early?

He wondered what other concessions Seonghwa had made for him. He didn’t like keeping the truth from Wooyoung or the rest of his family. But he was doing it, for Hongjoong. Even now. Hongjoong stared at his hands and felt more miserable than he’d felt in a long time. 

Tap tap.

Hongjoong jumped, and whipped his head up. 

There was a young man at the window, smiling at him through the glass. He was beautiful. He was more than beautiful, he was ethereal, with white blond hair falling in silky waves around a delicate, fairy-like face. The dark birthmark under one eye somehow added to the effect. He was what Hongjoong had secretly imagined when he’d dyed his hair silver. A smiling fae in the night. 

He motioned rolling the window down, and Hongjoong did. “Hello,” he said, in a surprisingly deep voice. “Do you remember me?”

Now that he’d asked, Hongjoong did. He’d seen him once before, under yellow streetlights, when his hair had been dark brown. “Yeah,” he said. “You’re Yeosang, right?”

“Yes, I am,” said Yeosang. “And you’re Hongjoong. Seonghwa’s piece. San’s roommate.”

Piece. That word rubbed Hongjoong the wrong way, and he tried not to show it. “Yeah.” 

“It’s nice to meet you again,” said Yeosang, still smiling. “I hope this is the last time I see you.”

Hongjoong froze. “What?”

“You broke up with Seonghwa, why are you sitting in his car?” asked Yeosang. He was still smiling, and nothing in his face had changed but it didn’t look so pleasant anymore. “He cried for nights and wouldn’t see anyone. You’re only going to hurt him again, so I suggest you leave.” 

“What?” Hongjoong was too shocked to say anything else. “I—I’m not—”

Yeosang abruptly straightened, and turned to the front door. Seonghwa was there, standing in the open doorway, looking puzzled. 

Hongjoong climbed out before Seonghwa could approach, car door pushing Yeosang out of his personal space. Two conversations were more than enough. He decided he didn’t want to see Yeosang again either.

“Everything fine?” asked Hongjoong.

“Yeah, you can come in,” said Seonghwa. “Were you talking with Yeosang?” 

“He just came by to say hi,” said Hongjoong. He glanced back at Yeosang, smiled at him. He refused to be intimidated by a vampire.

“Alright,” said Seonghwa. “Then… come in.” 

The front door opened to a large, spacious living room, tastefully decorated in a harmonious mix of modern and vintage. Hongjoong took in expensive wood furniture, potted plants on tables and a staircase in one end of the room before his eyes fell on the person sitting on one of the couches. 

Jongho looked a lot like he had the last time Hongjoong had seen him, dark hair down, slightly nervous look on his face. Hongjoong approached him, and Seonghwa trailed behind.

“Hello,” said Jongho. His voice was surprisingly confident.

“Hi,” said Hongjoong. He turned to Seonghwa. “Would you mind letting us talk in private?”

“Right, sure,” said Seonghwa. “I’ll…” He glanced at Jongho. “Call me when you’re done.”

He went upstairs. Hongjoong watched him go, and then sat at the end of the couch Jongho was on.

“You wanted to talk to me?” asked Jongho. 

“Yeah, I just wanted to ask you some things,” said Hongjoong. He went in without preamble. “When you… fed from me that night, did you know I didn’t want to?”

“No,” said Jongho plainly. “I’m sorry for that, by the way.”

“You really didn’t know,” said Hongjoong. He found it difficult to believe. It wasn’t like he’d given any hints otherwise. 

“I really didn’t know,” said Jongho. “Why would I lie to you? I didn’t know you didn’t want me to bite you. A lot of humans pretend like they don’t.”

“What?” Hongjoong was confused. “Why?”

“I don’t know,” said Jongho with a shrug. “I guess it’s a roleplay kinda thing? Some kind of kink. Seonghwa-hyung and Yeosang-hyung shut them down. Me and Wooyoung-hyung just go along with it. It’s easier.” 

“But—why?” Hongjoong was aghast. He thought vampire dens weren’t that kind of place.

“To a lot of humans, we aren’t people,” said Jongho dryly. “Not really. So it’s okay for them to force their fantasies on us. It’s fine, no one’s ever tried anything. They just act weird.” 

Hongjoong sat there and blinked at him. Jongho spoke so plainly he had no doubt he was telling the truth. Then it really had been a misunderstanding. It didn’t change the fact that Seonghwa had kept the truth from him, but it meant his adoration for Jongho wasn’t misplaced, at least not because of this.

“Anything else?” asked Jongho. 

“No, I…” Hongjoong didn’t know what else to say. He wanted to ask about his maker, about what she’d done to him, but that was so out of line it was in another galaxy. So he just shook his head.

“Okay, because I want to ask you something,” said Jongho. “Why were you mad at hyung?”

Hongjoong blinked at him. “Because he was hiding the truth from me.”

“But he didn’t do anything to you,” said Jongho. 

“It’s…” How was Hongjoong supposed to explain? “It was a big deal to me.”

Jongho pursed his lips. “You hurt him.” 

Disquiet fluttered in Hongjoong’s gut. It was an echo of what Yeosang had said to him. “He hurt me too,” he said, uselessly, because he knew Jongho wouldn’t care.

“If you do get back together, don’t hurt him again,” said Jongho. 

He looked so grim, so serious. Hongjoong could only nod. 

“Then I’ll go call hyung,” said Jongho, already standing up. He disappeared upstairs, leaving Hongjoong alone. 

That was… strange. The conversation hadn’t gone how he’d expected. Jongho had looked so serious, but it was better than the look Yeosang had given him. That had felt a little like a threat.

Seonghwa came downstairs, now wearing a wool coat right for November. “You guys done?” he asked. When Hongjoong nodded, he hesitated a moment and then said, “Do you want something to eat or…?”

“No, I should go before San and Yunho realize I’m gone,” said Hongjoong. 

Seonghwa looked disappointed, but nodded and moved towards the front door.

The drive back was silent. Seonghwa didn’t ask what Hongjoong and Jongho had talked about. He could probably guess. Hongjoong half-wished he’d ask Jongho how Seonghwa had been, but in a way he was glad he hadn’t. 

He cried for nights.

Hongjoong glanced at Seonghwa, and then looked out the window. 

The car came to a stop as they reached the corner near Hongjoong’s apartment complex. Hongjoong didn’t make a quick goodbye, flee from the car like he wanted. Seonghwa had something to say, he could feel it.

And eventually, he said it. “This is yours,” said Seonghwa.

He reached into the inner pocket of his coat, and pulled out a box. It was velvet, rectangular and flat, just small enough to fit in one of Seonghwa’s hands. It looked like a box for a locket.

Hongjoong’s gut churned. “No.”

“Please, just take it,” said Seonghwa, holding it out. “It’s sitting in my room and I—I have no use for it.”

He looked sincere. It was another echo, back to when Hongjoong had talked to him in the park, when he’d given him a silver charm wrapped in a handkerchief. 

Hongjoong took the box and opened it.

It wasn’t a locket. They were earrings, many of them, studded through the black velvet like stars at midnight. They were all different. Most of them were studs, from simple circles to many-pointed stars, three linked together by a thin, hanging chain. Some were thin rings. One at the top was long, dangling, fine chains hanging underneath like the tails of a comet. 

Hongjoong stared at them. Thirteen. The exact number of piercings he had. 

And then he looked at Seonghwa. “Why?” 

“I had them made before,” said Seonghwa, the barest hint of a smile on his lips. “And I’m never going to wear them so…” He smiled. “They’re yours, anyway, so you should have them.”

Hongjoong looked at all the earrings in the box, and then, without warning, shoved the open box in Seonghwa’s face. Seonghwa couldn’t hide the flinch as he jerked his head away. 

“It’s silver,” hissed Hongjoong. “Why?” Why would he give him jewelry made of silver? Seonghwa was a vampire.

“I don’t know,” said Seonghwa. “I thought… it’s special, like you, it made sense…” 

It didn’t make sense. Hongjoong wanted to snap at him, but he wasn’t angry anymore. He couldn’t dredge up any more anger. All he could do was look at the box in his hands, at the many silver rings and studs.

“I can’t wear these around you,” said Hongjoong.

The words were out before he could grasp the implications. He looked up and caught Seonghwa staring at him before he quickly looked away. 

“I did get an identical set made, in imitation silver,” murmured Seonghwa, refusing eye contact. “If you want it…” 

Hongjoong swallowed. Every time he was around Seonghwa he got the distinct feeling that he was falling, fast and far, and he didn’t know how far he could go before hitting the bottom.

“Thanks,” he said, making Seonghwa finally look at him. “I… I should go before they realize I’m gone.”

“Yeah,” said Seonghwa. He licked his lower lip. “Thank you, for coming down and talking to me.”

“Yeah,” said Hongjoong. And then he couldn’t bear to look at Seonghwa and his beautiful, earnest eyes anymore, and got out of the car.

He started walking towards his building as soon as he was out, willing himself not to look behind him. He got as far as the gate to his complex before he stopped.

Hongjoong leaned against one of the pillars of the gate and looked at the box. He should’ve known Seonghwa would do something like this. Of course he’d gift him expensive jewelry, jewelry he’d had made especially for him. Of course.

The silver against black reminded Hongjoong of stars. Of Seonghwa. Of the painting he had half-finished in his bedroom, wilting under an old sheet.

Maybe it was time he started working on it again. 

Hongjoong put the box in his jacket pocket and walked back to his apartment. 

Chapter Text

There was something going on in the house.

The most obvious answer was Seonghwa’s breakup, and his inescapable misery. He’d started leaving his room, at least, but that didn’t mean he was any happier. His mood was like a cloud, hanging around the entire house, getting in everywhere. No wonder Yeosang stayed out more and more. Mingi wished he could do the same.

But other games were afoot. For one, when Yeosang was home he was never with Wooyoung. This was a pretty big deal. Mingi always thought of them as a set, Wooyoung all loud and energetic, Yeosang quiet and soft. But when Mingi found Yeosang home he was either alone, or with Jongho.

And that was another thing. Whatever Yeosang and Jongho talked about was secret. They whispered and murmured, and stopped talking whenever Mingi entered the room. Usually Mingi would’ve been upset, being so obviously left out, but one time he saw Yeosang take Jongho’s hand and squeeze it, and Jongho let him. That meant something serious had gone down.

Whatever it was, Jongho needed support. Mingi wasn’t good at support, but he tried his best. He called Jongho to his room for video games, playing the ones Jongho enjoyed or was good at. He even asked once if anything happened, but Jongho waved the question off and changed the subject. That was fine. Yeosang and Seonghwa could deal with emotional burdens and heart-to-heart talks. Mingi was just there for distractions.

Still, the atmosphere in the house was not good. Mingi was actually glad when San came over.

He was stuck in his room, of course, but he pressed his ear to the wall and heard the door open in the room next to his. Seonghwa had left his room to go see San. That was good. Mingi relaxed, lay down on his bed and grabbed his phone.

Yunho picked up on the second ring. “Hey,” he said. “I was just gonna call you.”

“Well I called first so it’s your turn next time,” said Mingi, making Yunho laugh. “San’s here.”

“Oh, yeah, he said he was gonna meet up with Wooyoung after work,” said Yunho. He paused. “You’re okay with that?”

“Him and Wooyoung dating? Uh yeah,” said Mingi.

“No, him going there,” said Yunho.

“It is kinda annoying, ’cause I have to sit in my room,” admitted Mingi. “But I’m glad he came, I think it’s good for Seonghwa-hyung.”

Yunho hummed. “How is he?”

“Still super miserable,” said Mingi. “Hung up over his ex.”

“That sucks,” said Yunho. “Do you think they’ll get back together?”

“I dunno,” said Mingi. He’d never even met Seonghwa’s ex, he had no idea what kind of guy he was. “I hope so.”

“Me too, for his sake,” said Yunho. “Hongjoong-hyung is fighting with his boyfriend, and it’s not fun.”

Mingi thought of Yunho’s terrifying roommate and shuddered. “I’m sorry for his boyfriend.”

Yunho laughed. “Hyung isn’t that scary, Ming.”

“I’m still scared he’s gonna stake me,” said Mingi seriously, while Yunho laughed. “I mean it! That happens all the time in movies.”

“He is not going to stake you,” said Yunho, still laughing. “This is not a movie, for one. Also where would he get a stake?”

“He could get one if he wanted,” said Mingi. From what he’d heard of this guy, he could bend reality with the force of his will.

“Okay, if hyung does try to stake you, I promise I’ll stop him,” said Yunho. “That okay? I’ll even heroically throw myself in front of you.”

“Okay,” said Mingi, satisfied. He didn’t mind being the damsel in distress if Yunho was the dashing hero. 

They talked for some time, about pointless things that should’ve been boring but weren’t, because it was Yunho. Mingi got up and hovered by the window, enjoying the breeze as Yunho told him about the assignment he was slaving away on. Mingi loved the wind. He wondered if it was windy where Yunho was too.

“Oh,” he said, surprised. “Seonghwa-hyung.”

“Huh? What about him?”

“He’s coming back from somewhere,” said Mingi, watching as Seonghwa’s car pulled in. He hadn’t even known he’d left. “Probably went to get food for San. We don’t really keep any in the house unless he’s here.”

“Ming, can I ask you something?” asked Yunho.

“Yeah, sure,” said Mingi, resting against the frame of the window.

“Is it okay for you when San comes over?”

“I told you, it’s a little annoying,” said Mingi. “But it’s not that bad.”

“No, I mean…” He heard Yunho sigh over the line. “Is it okay for you? You don’t get… thirsty?”

“Oh.” Mingi didn’t know how to answer.

If he was being totally honest, it wasn’t okay. Opening his door just a crack let in the sweet, overpowering scent of San’s blood, calling to him. As long Mingi was upstairs, away, it was bearable, it didn’t turn him crazed or mindless. But it was so strong. It stuck in the edges of his head. He thought about it even after San left. 

But Mingi couldn’t be totally honest. He couldn’t be totally honest, otherwise Wooyoung would stop bringing San around, and Seonghwa would be crushed. If Mingi thought for a second he might hurt San he would’ve said so. But he knew Wooyoung wouldn’t take any risks with San, and neither would Seonghwa. Even just admitting Mingi craved his blood would be enough. 

And Mingi couldn’t be totally honest to Yunho. He couldn’t let him know just how scary, how messed up he was. Like a monster ready to break free.

“I… uh…” He stalled, trying to come up with a good midpoint. “Kind of? But not—not really. I mean, just a little. But I’ve never thought of—of attacking him.”

Because he didn’t need to think of it.

Mingi forced that thought down. He hated lying to Yunho.

“So it’s okay? That he’s in the same house as you?” asked Yunho 

Mingi grit his teeth, forced a smile into his words. “Yeah.”

There was a little pause on the line. “You know,” said Yunho, “San says his blood is extra good. Wooyoung said so.”

Oh, Mingi didn’t like this conversation at all anymore. “Yeah,” he said. “Can we, like, talk about something else? How was work?”

“This is important,” insisted Yunho. “So San’s blood is really good?”

“Yeah,” said Mingi.

“I got San to ask Wooyoung how I smelled,” said Yunho. “He said I was just normal.”

“Okay.” Mingi picked at the wooden frame of the window. He didn’t like where this was going.

“So if it’s okay for you to be in the same house as San,” said Yunho carefully, “then maybe, since I don’t smell anywhere near as good, we could…”

Mingi’s stomach dropped. “No.”

Yunho didn’t sound surprised at his reaction. “Come on,” he said. “You said it yourself, you’re okay when San comes over, right? So maybe one day I could—”

“No,” said Mingi. He swallowed, feeling nausea rise in his throat. “No, you can’t. No.”

“I’m not gonna be in any danger,” insisted Yunho. “If it’s safe for San it’s safe for me.”

“It’s—it’s—” Mingi couldn’t explain. He couldn’t believe Yunho didn’t understand. “No, you can’t.”

“Ming, please,” said Yunho. “When was the last time you were around a human? Like, right in front of you?”

“Five years ago,” said Mingi weakly.

“Five years ago,” said Yunho, like that supported his point. “You could’ve gotten better since then. You could be okay now. We could meet.”

“I am not going to use you as an experiment, Yunho!” cried Mingi. “I’m not—how could you say that?”

He was going to throw up. He felt sick, sick at the thought of hurting Yunho, of biting him like a crazed animal and leaving him weak and bloody or—or worse—

“I’m sorry,” said Yunho. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said it. I don’t wanna pressure you, Ming, I’m really sorry, okay? I’m sorry.”

He sounded panicked, and it took Mingi a moment to realize why. Mingi sounded panicked. He was breathing, hard, gulping down air he didn’t need. Yunho must’ve heard.

“No, it’s okay,” said Mingi. He took one last breath. “I’m… I’m okay.”

“I’m sorry for making you upset,” said Yunho. “I don’t wanna make you feel like you need to do anything you’re not okay with. I just… I really wanna see you.”

“I know, I wanna see you too,” said Mingi. “But I’m not… I won’t let you get hurt.”

“I’m not going to get hurt,” said Yunho softly. “Promise. But we don’t have to meet if you don’t want to.”

“I do want to,” said Mingi. “I do. I just…” 

I won’t let myself hurt anyone. Especially not you. He knew Yunho wouldn’t understand. Nobody would. Mingi was unique, he had no one that would really understand how he felt, how he lived.

Cut off. Scared. Unable to even meet the guy he liked.

“Can you take a picture of your hand?” 

Mingi came back to the conversation. “Huh?”

“Your hand,” said Yunho, and Mingi could hear the smile in his voice. “Send me a picture of your hand.”

“For what?” asked Mingi, perplexed.

“I wanna see it,” said Yunho. “Wait, let me send you mine.” 

Mingi blinked, confused, as the line went silent. The door opened, just a couple of inches, and Yeosang slipped into the room as Mingi’s phone dinged with a notification. Mingi raised an eyebrow at Yeosang, but the other just shook his head as he went and lay down on the bed. He didn’t want anything except to be in the same room as him. Mingi could do that.

He checked the notification and saw that Yunho really had just sent a photo of his hand. Mingi shrugged, sent one back.

“Thanks,” said Yunho. “Your hand’s pretty. I think mine’s a bit bigger though.”

He was trying to distract Mingi from his worries. “Thanks,” said Mingi. “Yeah, yours looks bigger.”

Yunho hummed. “Your hand would fit pretty nice in mine.”

“Yeah?” Mingi smiled to himself as he leaned against the wall by the window.

“Oh, totally,” said Yunho. He was smiling too, Mingi could hear it. “Your hands are cold, right?”

“Usually,” said Mingi.

“That’s cool, mine are always a little warm anyway,” said Yunho. “Your hands look really smooth too.”

“The most work I ever do is play video games,” said Mingi, with a little laugh. 

“Yeah, I know,” said Yunho. “Princess.”

Mingi smiled even wider.

“So how were your classes?” he asked.

“The worst thing happened,” said Yunho, groaning. “I got stuck with the biggest dead weights for my group project. I’m gonna have to spend the entire time doing their work too.”

“Aww, that sucks,” said Mingi. He turned and leaned against the windowsill, looking out into the yard. “Can’t you get them to do their work?”

“How?”

“I dunno, threaten them or something,” said Mingi, grinning. “No, you’re too cute, I guess it’s like having a little puppy barking at you.” He paused, enjoyed the sound of Yunho’s laughter. “Oh, hey, you could get your Hongjoong-hyung to scare them. That’d work.”

“Hyung? He’s not scary at all,” said Yunho, still laughing. 

“To you, maybe,” retorted Mingi, and Yunho laughed harder.

They talked for a little longer, about Yunho’s group and his project and what he’d be doing, until he had to leave.

“San’s here, he’s being all loud in the living room,” said Yunho. “I’ll call you again later, okay? It is my turn next time.”

“Okay,” said Mingi, smiling to himself.

“Okay,” repeated Yunho. “Bye, Ming.”

“Bye,” said Mingi sweetly.

He looked at his phone a moment after he ended the call. He didn’t know how, but Yunho was always able to make him feel like he was floating, buzzing with energy. Like he’d swallowed a gallon of happiness.

“Mingi.”

Mingi jumped, whirled around. Yeosang was sitting on his bed, looking at him. Mingi had completely forgotten he was even there.

“Oh, hey,” he said. “Sorry, forgot you were there.”

“That’s okay,” said Yeosang, with a gentle smile. “That was your—your boyfriend?”

“Uh,” said Mingi. He and Yunho hadn’t really talked about if they were officially boyfriends or not, but he couldn’t deny the little thrill he got from the thought of it. Yunho. His boyfriend.

“I guess,” he said finally.

“That’s nice,” said Yeosang.

Mingi hesitated. “Really?”

“Yeah, really,” said Yeosang. “I’m happy you’re talking to more people. But, Mingi, I wanted to ask you something.”

“Yeah, sure,” said Mingi, shrugging.

“I’m sorry for eavesdropping,” said Yeosang, “but who’s Hongjoong?”

“He’s—” Mingi stopped. How much did Yeosang know? Had Wooyoung told him San lived with a Hongjoong? He thought hard, trying to remember if Wooyoung had ever mentioned the name in front of them, but he couldn’t remember for sure.

“You mentioned a Hongjoong-hyung,” said Yeosang. “Is that someone your boyfriend knows or…?”

Oh, he definitely knew, otherwise he wouldn’t be asking. Mingi scrambled for an answer. “Oh, yeah, a friend,” he said with a horribly nervous chuckle. “I think a friend from class or something? I don’t know.”

Yeosang hummed. “Really? How did you and your boyfriend meet, anyway?”

“O—online.” It was the truth but Mingi was still freaking out. He wasn’t used to lying, especially not to Yeosang.

“Okay,” said Yeosang.

“Okay?” Mingi’s voice shook.

“Okay,” repeated Yeosang, calm as ever.

They looked at each other, five, ten seconds, and Mingi cracked.

“You can’t tell anyone,” he said. “Please, please, please. Not even Wooyoung. Especially not Wooyoung.”

“Alright, alright, I won’t tell Wooyoung,” said Yeosang, taken aback. “What is it?”

Mingi went round the bed and sat down next to Yeosang. “I’m kinda dating Yunho, one of the guys San lives with.”

Yeosang blinked at him, and then burst into laughter.

It was pure amusement, nothing mean, and he laughed hard, tipping back. Mingi squirmed, not seeing what was so funny.

“Oh, damn,” said Yeosang, as he finally calmed down. “They should’ve had another roommate, then Jongho could’ve gotten himself a human too.”

Mingi didn’t understand. “What?”

“Nothing,” said Yeosang, still grinning. He patted his cheeks to get them down. “So you’re dating Yunho. Alright.”

“Yeah,” said Mingi. “So, like, you won’t tell Wooyoung, right? Because he’d definitely tell San and Yunho doesn’t want that. And I know it’s hard because you’re all blood bonded and—”

Yeosang raised a hand, stopping him. “Why does Yunho not want San to know?”

“He thinks San might end up blurting it out to Hongjoong,” said Mingi.

“So?” There was a slightly sharp edge to Yeosang’s gaze now. 

“Hongjoong would totally freak out,” said Mingi. “And he’d probably, like, stake me and I really don’t wanna be staked so please don’t tell.”

Yeosang frowned. “You’re both hiding this for… your sake?”

“Yeah, I guess,” said Mingi. “Yunho said before he doesn’t care if anyone knows but—I don’t want Seonghwa-hyung to know yet either, you know how he is, he worries so much and now he’s been dumped and it sucks for him and I don’t wanna put this on his mind now too.”

“Put what?” asked Yeosang. “It’s your relationship.”

The thought that I’d ever leave the house. That I’d ever even think of meeting Yunho in person. “Just, you know he worries,” said Mingi. “And Hongjoong would make it really hard for Yunho too so please don’t tell anyone.”

Yeosang fell silent, thinking it over while Mingi watched anxiously. “Does he know?” he asked finally. “That you can’t meet him in person? Why you can’t meet him in person?”

Mingi nodded.

“And he doesn’t mind?” asked Yeosang. “He doesn’t think you’re a monster?”

Mingi shook his head.

Yeosang looked at him awhile, lost in thought. “Okay,” he said finally. “I won’t tell anyone.”

“Thank you,” cried Mingi, and he grabbed Yeosang and hugged him. Yeosang let him.

“Just be more careful, okay?” he said. “Especially around Seonghwa. You know he knows about Hongjoong too, right?”

“Right, yeah,” said Mingi. He took a deep breath, like he needed it. “Thanks, Yeosang.”

Yeosang smiled at him and nodded. 

 

✤✥✣✥✤

 

San walked in with a stack of boxes, all pink and pretty. Yunho picked up the one on top and inspected it. He squeaked when he saw the monogrammed logo on top. “This looks fancy.”

“And expensive,” said Hongjoong as he opened one. He took out a macaroon from inside and ate it.

Yunho opened the one he had, found it full of cookies. Even looking at them you could tell they were expensive. He thought of taking one, but decided against it when San offered him a chocolate cupcake from the box he’d opened. It was amazing.

“Where did you get all this?” he asked.

“A friend gave me,” answered San.

“What friend?” asked Hongjoong.

“A friend,” said San.

“A friend.” Hongjoong watched San with suspicious eyes.

“Wooyoung’s brother Seonghwa gave them to me,” said San, resigned.

Hongjoong’s expression immediately darkened. Yunho scrambled to keep the mood light. “Oh, that was nice of him,” he said loudly. “For any reason?”

“The bakery is his friend’s,” said San, pretending like he hadn’t noticed Hongjoong’s change of mood either. “So it’s kind of like free promotion? I think he just wanted to buy them, but no one in his house eats so…”

Mingi had spotted Seonghwa returning to the house. He’d gone out to get all this stuff, and all for San. “He seems like a great person,” said Yunho. “Is he okay?”

San looked at him with a trace of suspicion. “What do you mean, ‘okay’?” 

Yunho cursed mentally. He forgot he wasn’t supposed to know Seonghwa, or him getting dumped. “I mean, is he good?” he said quickly. “Is he doing well?”

“Oh,” said San with a sigh. “Not really. Woo says he’s been down. His boyfriend broke up with him and—”

He realized his mistake the exact moment Yunho did, and shut up. They chanced careful glances at Hongjoong. He’d become kind of touchy about relationships since he’d started arguing with his boyfriend. Hongjoong looked troubled, staring at nothing while he chewed on his lower lip, macaroon forgotten.

“I hope he feels better soon,” said Yunho, careful, when he realized how silent the room had gotten.

They stood around for some time, talking, finishing their cupcakes. Hongjoong went to his room, acting weird. Yunho and San went to theirs. 

They both sat on Yunho’s bed, San by the foot and facing him. He still looked bothered, probably because of Seonghwa. Yunho knew they were close, from what he’d heard from both San and Mingi. 

“Is anything up?” asked Yunho, when he noticed San wasn’t doing anything except sitting there, looking unhappy.

San hesitated, and then asked, “Do you think Hongjoong-hyung will ever be okay with me dating Wooyoung?”

“Yeah, probably,” said Yunho. He tried to sound positive. 

“You think?” asked San, raising an eyebrow. “Come on, you saw him. He didn’t even wanna eat anymore when he heard Seonghwa-hyung bought that stuff.”

“Maybe he just felt awkward eating something bought by someone he doesn’t know,” said Yunho, but even he knew that wasn’t it.

“I thought he was getting better,” said San. “In the middle it felt like he really did support me and Wooyoung. The three of us even met up once and it went okay. But now it’s like we’re right back where we started.”

“It’s probably because he’s arguing with his boyfriend,” said Yunho. “He’ll be okay when they make up, you’ll see. Now he hates everyone.” 

San grumbled, unconvinced. Yunho didn’t know if he was right. All he could do was pray he was.

Hongjoong was against Wooyoung, who walked San home and seemed like a normal human. How would he react when he found out about Mingi? Yunho knew Hongjoong would find out eventually, because Yunho had no intention of letting go of Mingi and they couldn’t keep things secret forever, but he didn’t know if he’d able to handle Hongjoong’s reaction. 

It was pretty late now and San yawned, stretched and reached out for his phone. He shook back his sleeves as he settled in.

Yunho darted forward. He grabbed San’s wrist, and San squawked but didn’t pull away. Yunho pulled up his sleeve and stared at his bare forearm.

There were marks on it.

He looked up and into San’s wide eyes, and San quickly snatched his arm free and pushed the sleeve back down. Yunho fell back onto his side of the bed. 

Two tiny dots, spaced over an inch apart. 

“Dude,” said Yunho slowly. “Is—are those bite marks?”

San watched him, wary almost, like he thought Yunho would get up right that second and tell on him to Hongjoong. But Yunho didn’t. He sat and watched San back, waiting even though he already knew the answer.

“Yeah,” said San finally, a hint of defiance in his tone. “They are.”

“I thought… I thought Wooyoung didn’t drink from you,” said Yunho. Now that he’d said it, though, he realized how dumb he’d been to believe that. San liked to brag about how his blood was so good, better than most humans’. How would that come up unless Wooyoung was feeding from him?

“He didn’t used to, at first,” said San. “And then when we started I just didn’t bother to correct you guys.”

You guys, meaning Yunho and Hongjoong. Then Mingi knew. But Yunho had never asked him, and Mingi had no idea Yunho didn’t know. He thought about it, turning the idea around in his mind, the thought of Wooyoung drinking blood from San.

“Does he do it often?” he asked.

“Pretty often, I guess,” said San. He looked more relaxed now that he realized Yunho wasn’t telling Hongjoong. “Not when we’re out, though.”

Yunho moved closer. “What’s it like?”

“The feeding?” asked San.

Yunho nodded.

“Like…” San tilted his head, trying to find the right words. “It feels like you’re floating. But you don’t think you’re floating. You don’t really think anything at all. If I try really hard I can make myself remember where I am and what I’m doing, but mostly I don’t bother. It’s like you let go of everything you were ever worried about.”

So that’s what it was like. Yunho’s never experienced it, but he’d heard stories before. He trusted San’s description the most.

“Aren’t you ever scared?” he asked, thoughts now on someone else, another vampire. “That he’ll, like, lose control?”

“Wooyoung? Never,” said San without a hint of hesitation. “He’d never hurt me.” 

Wooyoung would never hurt San. That was great, obviously, and Yunho was glad San was never in any danger. But why did he also feel so bitter?

“I heard it was addictive,” said Yunho, trying to push that thought out of his mind. “Getting bitten.”

“I’m fine,” said San, shrugging. “I’m used to it.”

“Used to it?” Yunho frowned.

Now San stopped. He looked pensive, and it was some time before he finally spoke. “If I tell you something,” he said slowly, “will you promise never to tell Hongjoong-hyung? Ever?”

“Yeah, of course,” said Yunho, serious.

“I’ve been bitten before,” said San. “A lot.”

“What do you mean, a lot?” asked Yunho, sitting up.

“You remember I used to work in that store like a year ago,” said San. “I had one of the last shifts, and I usually had to lock up. It was like a ten minute walk to the nearest bus stop from there.”

“Yeah, I remember,” said Yunho. He didn’t like where this was going.

“I got… ‘mugged’,” said San. “More than once.”

Yunho stared at San. He looked so casual, so unbothered, sitting there talking about getting attacked by vampires a year ago. “What?”

“It’s no big deal,” said San. “They never took any money, and I never really got hurt or anything—”

“It’s a huge deal!” cried Yunho. “Why didn’t you ever tell us?”

“Because, like I said, it wasn’t a big deal,” said San. “And I never got robbed or hurt. I just woke up feeling a little weak sometimes, and that was only sometimes. Most of them didn’t drink much.”

Yunho could only gape at him, stunned.

“I knew you guys would freak out,” said San, sighing. “And after I switched jobs it didn’t happen again, so I thought there was no point in bringing it up.”

“Is this why Wooyoung always comes right up to our front door?” asked Yunho. He was still having trouble processing everything.

“Yeah, he worries,” said San. A smile touched his lips. “He even got me all this silver jewelry to wear when I’m not with him. He really didn’t need to, though. Vampires can smell each other’s venom or whatever when they feed. If he bit me any time within the last couple of days, other vampires can tell and they leave me alone.”

“Damn,” said Yunho on an exhale. He had no idea. He’d heard San’s blood was alluring to vampires but this… he’d never even considered it. He felt horrible.

“I’m really sorry for not telling you,” said San, looking guilty. “I know we’re supposed to be best friends and tell each other everything but I just didn’t want you to worry. And I’m sorry for thinking you’d tell Hongjoong-hyung. I know you’d never do that.”

Yunho looked at San, at his eyes all big and full of guilt, and blurted out, “I have something to tell you.”

San blinked, distracted from his guilt. “What is it?”

Yunho hesitated. Should he? He shouldn’t, not without asking Mingi first. But San was sitting right there in front of him, and he’d told him a secret he’d kept only so that Yunho wouldn’t worry, and he even felt guilty over it and—

“You can’t tell Hongjoong-hyung,” said Yunho. “Or Wooyoung. Or anyone.”

San’s eyes went wide, and he nodded.

This was it. Yunho went for it in one swipe. “The guy I’m dating is a vampire.”

San screamed.

Yunho threw himself over him and clamped a hand on his mouth. “Shut up,” he hissed. “Hyung will hear.”

San wrenched Yunho’s palm off his mouth. “I can’t believe it,” he whispered, almost bouncing. “How? When? I mean, how did you meet? When did you find out? Did—” His voice dropped even lower. “Did he ever drink from you?”

“No, he—we’ve never met in person,” said Yunho. He took a deep breath. “We met in that game, like I said. And I… I figured it out.”

“Wow,” breathed out San. He gave Yunho a look. “Does he know Wooyoung? Woo has a lot of friends.”

Now Yunho laughed nervously. “Kinda.”

“Kinda?” San frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“He… uh…” Yunho took the plunge. “You know Mingi?”

“Yeah, he lives with Woo,” said San. He stopped, looked at Yunho and his nervous face, and it clicked. Yunho saw the exact moment it happened, the little spark in his eye. 

He swallowed. “San—”

“Are you fucking crazy?” hissed San. “Do you—do you know—?”

“Yeah,” said Yunho quietly.

That shut San up. He looked away, deep in thought. “You know,” he said finally. “He can’t—I can’t even be on the same floor as him. You can’t even be on the same floor as him. You can’t ever meet.”

Yunho bristled. He couldn’t meet Mingi now. That didn’t mean he wouldn’t get better in the future. He might even be better now, but no one ever gave him a chance.

But he didn’t say any of that aloud. Instead he said, “I know.”

San didn’t say anything a long time, just sat where he was and chewed his lower lip, thinking hard. Yunho let him. He didn’t know how San would react. Would he tell Yunho to break up with Mingi? Yunho wasn’t doing that. He was prepared to sit through the whole speech, all the logical reasons, but he wasn’t going to listen.

And then, finally, San spoke. “Okay,” he said.

Yunho blinked. “Okay?”

“Okay,” repeated San. “You like each other. As long as you know, y’know, I can’t really say anything.” He smiled. “I hope you guys are happy together.”

Yunho didn’t know what to say in response. Fortunately he didn’t have to, because San understood and wrapped him up in a hug.

“Thank you,” he said, when he could.

“Of course,” said San, pulling away to beam at him. “Remember, I’m always on your side.” 

“And I’m on yours,” said Yunho. San nodded and hugged him again.

When San was done with his hugging and Yunho was okay, he decided he should do the thing he should’ve done before telling San. He called Mingi.

His gut twisted as it rang on the line. He regretted telling San before asking Mingi. He should’ve made sure it was okay with Mingi first, he should’ve—

“Yunho.”

“Hey,” said Yunho. He hesitated. “Are you okay? You sound… did something happen?”

“Uh, kind of,” said Mingi. He sounded nervous. 

“Something kind of happened here too,” said Yunho. He looked across to San, who was watching him excitedly. “I’m sorry, Ming. I told San about us.” San punctuated this with an excited shriek Mingi must’ve heard.

“Oh, shit,” said Mingi, and he sounded… relieved? “I told Yeosang.”

“Oh,” said Yunho, surprised. San shook him, wanting to know what was going on, and he said, “He told Yeosang.”

“Sorry,” said Mingi.

“No, it’s… it’s okay,” said Yunho. He laughed. “It’s fine. San isn’t telling hyung.”

“And I’m not telling anyone,” said a deep voice on the line. “Nice to talk to you again, Yunho-ssi.”

“Yeah, um, you too,” said Yunho. He caught San’s expression and explained, “I’m talking to Yeosang.”

San fell back, not that excited anymore.

“I wish you two the best,” said Yeosang. “And tell San I said hi.”

“Okay, thanks,” said Yunho. “He says hi,” he added to San. San stretched his mouth into a smile.

“So everything’s still okay, right?” asked Mingi. “We just added two people into the circle, but everything’s still fine.”

“Yeah, everything’s still fine,” said Yunho. “Oh, I guess since both Yeosang and San both know, we can tell Wooyoung too.”

“He won’t tell Seonghwa-hyung, right?” Mingi paused, obviously talking to Yeosang—Yunho could hear a bit of his deep voice. “Yeah, he won’t. So we can tell him.”

“We can tell Wooyoung too,” said Yunho to San.

“Yeosang-ssi will tell him then,” said San.

Yunho frowned, pulled the phone away from his mouth. “Hey, is everything okay?” San looked ticked.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” said San. He smiled. “Give me the phone, I wanna talk to Mingi.”

“Okay,” said Yunho. He brought the phone back and said, “Ming, San wants to talk to you.”

“Uh, okay,” said Mingi.

Yunho handed the phone over, and San immediately started squealing in excitement into it. Yunho just sat back and watched him. 

It was like he’d told Mingi. Everything was fine. For now, everything was fine. 

Chapter Text

The harsh buzz of Hongjoong’s phone cut through his concentration. He groaned and reached over for it, ready to snipe at whoever it was that had bothered him, when he saw the number and stopped.

It was Seonghwa. 

They hadn’t seen each other in almost a week, not since that night Seonghwa had shown up and Hongjoong had asked to meet Jongho. Things still felt off, not comfortable like they’d been before, and Hongjoong wouldn’t say they were back to how things were. But they were better. When Seonghwa texted, Hongjoong replied. Not as cutely or as freely as he used to, but he did. And Seonghwa didn’t send selfies or random pictures of things anymore, no pouting lips pointed at the camera, no regular updates on the dramas he was watching. His messages were stiff, formal almost. Careful. 

Hongjoong hated it. He hated how they’d become, like they were strangers again. He didn’t want to be strangers with Seonghwa. The only reason he’d gone down that night to meet him was so that they wouldn’t be strangers. 

It was weird, going back to how they’d been when they’d first met. But it was better than the days Hongjoong had avoided his phone, reluctant to face Seonghwa and at the same time sick he would get tired of him.

So now he picked up his phone, and opened the text.

peach
you’re working at the delivery place tonight right?

His words looked so stiff. No cute emoticons, no sweet message before the question asking if Hongjoong was well. Hongjoong felt like Seonghwa’s coworker, not his—whatever he was.

Yeah
Why?

peach
can i drop you home tonight?

Hongjoong chewed his lower lip. He wasn’t totally surprised. Seonghwa had always taken him to and from the delivery center, because it was a little far from his apartment and Seonghwa always worried. It was normal he’d want to drop him home after. Normal.

Sure

His reply was weird and stiff too, but Hongjoong had already pressed send, there was nothing he could do. He thought of sending a couple of emojis, but before he could make up his mind he got a text back.

peach
great
thank you

“Why are you thanking me?” Hongjoong murmured aloud. He sent it as a text too. 

peach
for giving me a chance to see you
and for giving me a chance in general
thank you

Hongjoong chewed his lip again, and then his fingernail.

Yeah
Of course

As soon as he hit send he groaned. Of course? What kind of response was that? Stupid. So stupid. Another buzz interrupted Hongjoong’s mental screaming, and he grabbed his phone.

peach
still i’m so happy
i promise i’ll make everything up to you
you won’t regret it 

“I don’t,” murmured Hongjoong. Before he could write anything, Seonghwa texted again.

peach
see you later tonight (❁´◡`❁)

Hongjoong stared at the cute emoticon until he could feel the smile on his face. 

He glanced at the canvas he’d been working on before the interruption. He hadn’t done much, just added a few touches here and there, and decided it was enough for the night. He’d have to leave for work soon.

After he’d washed up and changed, Hongjoong went to the living room to hang out with Yunho and San a while. It was empty. But their bedroom door was closed, and Hongjoong thought he could hear laughter behind it.

They’d been doing that a lot recently. Sitting in their room instead of the living room, laughing about stuff they didn’t share with Hongjoong. The other day San had made some inside joke Hongjoong had never heard, and Yunho had laughed. If Hongjoong was any less mature he’d be upset they were leaving him out of things.

But he wasn’t immature. Hongjoong was a mature, understanding adult. Which is why he went over to San and Yunho’s room and opened the door without knocking.

They were sitting on Yunho’s bed, heads bent over something. They both looked up as soon as the door opened.

“Hyung,” said San. He had his phone in his hand, and that’s what they’d been looking at. “Do you need anything?”

That sounded like he wanted Hongjoong to leave. Unfortunately for him, Hongjoong was not so agreeable. “Just came to see what you guys were doing,” he said. He slipped into the room. “What are you doing?”

“Nothing,” said San. He caught Hongjoong’s eyes on his phone and said, “Just showing Yunho some pictures of Wooyoung.”

“Oh.” Hongjoong moved in closer. “Can I see?”

San and Yunho exchanged looks, and then San shrugged and said, “Sure.”

He unlocked his phone and swiped through until he found the one he was looking for. Hongjoong was aware of Yunho giving him a look as they waited, and ignored it.

Finally, San turned his phone to show Hongjoong. Hongjoong stared. 

It was Wooyoung, but he looked different. His eyes looked different. They glowed, demonic, a molten gold shot through with spikes of white. Looking at them too long made Hongjoong’s eyes hurt, but he couldn’t look away. It was like watching an electrical fire.

“His eyes come out a little different in pictures,” said San, like he was talking about Wooyoung looking taller and not his eyes glowing like an infernal fire. He swiped, moving to the next picture, a more distant shot of Wooyoung posing in front of flowers. The eyes were less striking, but still there.

“Oh,” said Hongjoong. “That’s—okay.” He knew vampire eyes didn’t photograph right, which was why Seonghwa never sent any selfies with his eyes in the frame, but he didn’t know they looked like that.

“This is Woo in front of their house,” said San. He swiped again, glanced at the screen. “And him when he went out to buy shoes. And after he first dyed his hair, he’s with Yeosang, you wouldn’t know him—”

“I do,” said Hongjoong, though it was difficult to recognize him. In the picture Yeosang was smiling, and it softened his features, even with the yellow eyes. Completely different from what he’d looked like talking to Hongjoong.

San frowned. “You know him?”

Hongjoong scrambled for an answer. “Yeah, you talked about him before,” he said. “And Wooyoung mentioned him too, I think.”

“Oh, yeah,” said San. “I’m a little surprised you remember that.”

“Come on, I do listen to you when you talk,” said Hongjoong. “You talked about them a lot before. Wooyoung and Yeosang, and Mingi, Jongho, and—and Seonghwa.”

San nodded. He didn’t look suspicious, which was a relief. He could be relentless when he got suspicious.

Hongjoong decided not to push his luck. “I gotta get to work,” he said. “See you guys later.”

“So early?” asked Yunho.

“Yeah, I need to get the earlier bus,” said Hongjoong, already heading towards the door.

“Your boyfriend’s not gonna take you?” asked Yunho.

Hongjoong froze. He saw Yunho do the same, while San shoved and hissed at him to be more considerate.

“Not—not tonight,” said Hongjoong, and then he quickly left before San or Yunho could say anything.

The bus was on time, and he reached the center a few minutes early. Hongjoong kept himself busy with work, running deliveries, pretending like he wasn’t thinking of texting Seonghwa about the places he went like he used to. And it worked, everything was fine, until Hongjoong was putting his bike away after his final delivery and his phone buzzed with a message from Seonghwa, telling him he was outside and ready for him.

“Normal,” said Hongjoong to himself. “Everything’s normal.”

Except it wasn’t normal, seeing Seonghwa leaning against his car in front of the building, dressed in a pale pink sweater oversized even on his frame and with his hair resting in gentle curls on his forehead. He smiled when he saw Hongjoong, big and genuine, and Hongjoong could’ve melted away at the sight of him.

“Hi,” said Seonghwa, still smiling as Hongjoong approached. “Had a busy night?”

“Not too busy,” said Hongjoong. He hesitated. “You don’t have to do this, y’know…”

“You know I want to,” said Seonghwa. He opened the passenger side door for Hongjoong, and only went round to his side after Hongjoong climbed in.

It was weird, being back in Seonghwa’s car. The last time Hongjoong had been in here, Seonghwa had given him a set of silver earrings made especially for him.

“That’s for you,” said Seonghwa, motioning to a covered plastic cup sitting in the cupholder. 

The cup was warm, and Hongjoong examined the brown drink inside before taking an experimental sip. “This is hot chocolate,” he said.

“Oh, good, then they gave me the right order,” said Seonghwa. He glanced at Hongjoong, smiling. “I had no way of checking.”

“I’m not a kid,” said Hongjoong, but he was smiling too. “I would’ve liked a coffee better.”

“Yeah, but I’m sure you’d like to sleep tonight, too,” said Seonghwa.

“Caffeine isn’t that strong, you know,” said Hongjoong. Not considering the tolerance he’d built to it, anyway.

“I don’t, actually,” said Seonghwa. “But when it comes to you and your refusal to take care of yourself, I’m not taking the risk, thanks.”

“I do take care of myself,” grumbled Hongjoong, and he saw the smile spread even more on Seonghwa’s face.

They traveled without conversation for some time, and it wasn’t as awkward as Hongjoong had thought it would be. He sipped his hot chocolate, listening to some acoustic love song play over the radio. It was very Seonghwa. 

“I need to pick up some groceries,” said Hongjoong. “You can drop me off at that supermarket over there.”

“I actually have some things I need to buy too,” said Seonghwa. “So I can go in with you, and then drop you home after.” He glanced at Hongjoong. “If that’s okay.”

“Yeah, sure,” said Hongjoong, pretending like that careful glance didn’t bother him. “That’s cool.”

Seonghwa parked in front of the supermarket, a few feet from the entrance. Hongjoong sat still, waiting, and when Seonghwa noticed he stopped.

“Is everything okay?” he asked.

“Fine,” said Hongjoong. “Just… wondering if you need time to, like, do your makeup or anything.”

Seonghwa smiled at him. “I already did before I left the house,” he said. “Don’t worry, I won’t embarrass you again. Come on.”

He hadn’t embarrassed Hongjoong the time they’d gone to the mart together, but before Hongjoong could tell him that Seonghwa was already climbing out of the car. Hongjoong followed.

The inside of the supermarket was bright and clean and relatively empty of people. Hongjoong grabbed a cart and Seonghwa took a basket, which Hongjoong pulled out of his unprotesting grip.

“We can share,” he said. 

They moved through the aisles, picking up things they needed. Hongjoong couldn’t deny it was nice being with Seonghwa like this, comfortable in a way, like they’d done this a thousand times before. 

Like he’s your husband, some ridiculous part of Hongjoong’s brain supplied, and he panicked and tried so hard to get away from that thought he walked into the handle of the cart.

“Are you okay?” asked Seonghwa.

“Fine,” said Hongjoong, like he hadn’t just bruised his ribs because his own dumbass brain was thinking about being married to Seonghwa. 

“That looked like it hurt,” said Seonghwa, concerned. 

“I’m fine,” insisted Hongjoong, and Seonghwa let it go, though he still looked unconvinced.

“Which of these does San like?” he asked, holding two packets of cookies.

“That one,” said Hongjoong, and Seonghwa put the chosen brand into the cart. They kept on moving, towards the produce. “You’re shopping for San?”

“He’s the only one that eats in our house,” said Seonghwa. 

“So no one else is dating or bringing over any humans,” said Hongjoong.

Seonghwa licked his lower lip, just for a flash. “No,” he said. He paused. “Well, I think Mingi is, but he can’t invite him over.”

“Why not?” Hongjoong picked out some tomatoes.

When Seonghwa answered, his voice was low. “He can’t be around humans, Hongjoong. You know that.”

Hongjoong stopped, feeling terrible. He did know that. Seonghwa had mentioned it before, that Mingi was like a newborn vampire, and it was obvious it was a sensitive subject. Hongjoong had asked the question like a bulldozer ripping through a rose garden.

“Sorry,” he said. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have—”

“It’s okay,” said Seonghwa. “It’s fine. Anyway, Mingi can’t really be around humans, so he can’t invite anyone over. And he has to stay upstairs while San is there.”

“Oh,” said Hongjoong. And then, because he felt like he should add something, “That sucks.”

“Yeah, it does,” muttered Seonghwa, looking at nothing.

He looked so… sad. Weighed down, burdened. Hongjoong remembered one night, so many nights ago, when Seonghwa had said his family deserved better than him and he wasn’t meant to take care of them. He thought he understood now. Seonghwa’s little family had money, but a whole lot of other problems too. Mingi. Jongho. And Yeosang, whose thinly veiled threat had sent a chill down Hongjoong’s spine.

“Hey,” said Hongjoong, maybe a little too brightly. “Which of these is better?”

Seonghwa started out of his thoughts to peer at him, brow furrowing. “Are you asking me to judge… cauliflower?”

Hongjoong nodded.

“You know I don’t eat, right?” said Seonghwa, grinning in that unique way of his, like it was a grimace too.

“Yeah, but you have eyes,” said Hongjoong. He hefted the two stalks. “Which one?”

“Left,” said Seonghwa, and Hongjoong put it in the cart. “San doesn’t like cauliflower.”

“San doesn’t like anything, Peach,” said Hongjoong. “Doesn’t mean I’m gonna let him live off cereal and takeout.”

Seonghwa smiled at that, big and bright and gorgeous, and Hongjoong only realized why after they’d already started moving again. He’d called him Peach.

They passed by the freezer on the way to the checkout, and Hongjoong hesitated. He craved ice cream. But if he bought one now it meant he’d have to eat it without San and Yunho, and he wasn’t going to buy an entire tub—

“You’ll get a sore throat if you eat one now,” said Seonghwa, coming up behind him. And then he leaned down and opened the freezer. “What flavor?”

Hongjoong smiled. “Just vanilla is fine.”

There was no line at the checkout. Hongjoong watched, barely able to hide a grin as the guy at the counter openly gawked at Seonghwa in between scanning their groceries. Seonghwa didn’t even notice. He was used to it, probably.

He announced the total and Hongjoong was already reaching for his wallet when he stopped. “Wait, did you scan all of those together?”

“All the ones in the cart,” said the kid. 

“We didn’t divide our stuff,” said Hongjoong to Seonghwa. Seonghwa blinked, obviously realizing just then.

“You guys aren’t together?” The cashier couldn’t keep the hopeful lilt out of his voice. “Do you want me to cancel and do all of them separately?”

Hongjoong looked at the kid, and then at everything all bagged up, and thought of his experiences with picky customers. “No, it’s fine.”

“Okay, then your total’s the same.”

Before Hongjoong could pay, Seonghwa already had his shiny black card out and was handing it over. He grumbled, and Seonghwa smiled innocently. 

“Since I bought more than you,” he said. “You can pay me back later.”

“You know damn well you’d never let me,” said Hongjoong, but he wasn’t really mad, and Seonghwa could tell. 

“Thank you,” said Seonghwa politely to the cashier, taking all the bags. “And also, yes, we are together.”

He walked off dramatically. Hongjoong laughed, smiled apologetically at the cashier, and then followed.

Seonghwa was waiting for him by the car, all the bags already stowed. He had Hongjoong’s ice cream, and handed it over as he arrived.

“What was that?” asked Hongjoong, laughing as he got in the car. 

“I’m sorry,” said Seonghwa. “I know that was a bit too much.”

“I felt like I was in some drama,” said Hongjoong, still grinning as he scooped up some ice cream. “Why’d you get all huffy on him?”

Seonghwa glanced at Hongjoong as they backed out of the parking spot. “Okay, promise you won’t make fun of me.”

“I won’t make fun of you,” said Hongjoong, grinning.

He hesitated a bit more, and then gave in. “He was making eyes at you,” said Seonghwa.

Hongjoong blinked at him, and then burst into laughter.

“He was,” said Seonghwa indignantly. “It was pretty obvious, he didn’t even try to hide it, he—stop laughing at me!”

“Sorry,” said Hongjoong, and he did try to stop, very hard. “Sorry, I’m—I’m surprised. He was making eyes at me?”

“Yes,” said Seonghwa. He frowned, eyes on the road. “I’m sorry. It bothered me.”

Hongjoong didn’t bother trying to tell Seonghwa he wasn’t the one the cashier had been interested in. Instead he said, “It’s okay.”

“Thank you,” said Seonghwa. He gave a brief glance at Hongjoong. “For letting me drop you home too, and shopping with me and… basically letting me see you.”

Hongjoong curled back in his seat, embarrassed. “You don’t have to thank me,” he murmured. He hid his words behind more ice cream.

“I know I haven’t done enough to show you how sorry I am,” said Seonghwa. “I don’t really know what to do without making you uncomfortable. I’d stand outside your apartment with a dozen roses every night, but I get the feeling you wouldn’t want that.” He chuckled.

The thought made Hongjoong cringe. “I don’t think anyone would.”

Seonghwa opened his mouth, and then closed it soundlessly.

“You’re kidding,” said Hongjoong, straightening. “You’d want that?”

“No of course not,” said Seonghwa quickly. “But… but I did have an ex-boyfriend that asked me to do it.”

Hongjoong stared at him. “And you did?”

No answer, which was answer enough.

“You can’t be serious,” said Hongjoong in disbelief. “You did it for that loser—”

“Hey, you don’t know what he was like,” said Seonghwa with a pained-looking smile.

“If he made you stand outside his apartment every night he was a loser,” said Hongjoong. He punctuated the statement with another spoonful of ice cream. Seonghwa looked like he had something to say to that, but he kept quiet and just drove.

They were turning into the corner Hongjoong was usually dropped off at when Seonghwa asked, “How are San and Yunho?”

“Uh, good, I guess,” said Hongjoong, scraping up the last of the ice cream. “And, uh, everyone in your—coven?”

“As good as ever,” said Seonghwa. He glanced at Hongjoong. “I talked to Jongho again, and we both know he wronged you. I’m sorry I tried to shield him. And I shouldn’t have lied to you just because I didn’t want you to be angry at me. You have every right to be angry at me. I’m so sorry I did all this, you deserved better than that and—”

“Yeah, I know,” said Hongjoong, interrupting him. “You told me all this before, a lot of times. You don’t—you don’t need to get into it again.” 

By now they had come all the way up to the apartment complex gate. “I don’t know how to make things okay,” said Seonghwa, as the car came to a stop. He looked at Hongjoong. “Everything I think of, I’m scared it will make you even more angry at me. Can you just tell me what I should do?”

The sincere, worried gaze he had on his face made Hongjoong feel things, most of them beyond his ability to name. He had to say something, he knew that, but it was always so hard to speak when Seonghwa looked at him like that. Like the entire world had stopped, and Hongjoong could make it start moving again with a word. 

“You don’t need to…” Hongjoong stared out at the gate in front of them. “You don’t need to do anything special. Just—just this is okay. Okay?”

He turned back to Seonghwa and found him watching him. “Okay,” said Seonghwa.

They sat in the backseat and divided up the groceries, putting them in separate bags. Seonghwa worked methodically, and quick, until Hongjoong realized it was better if he just sat back and stayed out of the way. When they were all done, Seonghwa offered to carry Hongjoong’s bags to his apartment. 

“It’s cool, I live just there,” said Hongjoong, taking them in hand. “So, uh, thanks. For driving me. And I’ll pay you back for the stuff.”

“No rush,” said Seonghwa. He had a small smile on his face, and it made him look so sweet and kind. “I’ll… see you later?” 

Hongjoong nodded, and then turned and walked the rest of the way to his apartment building, fighting the urge to look over his shoulder and smile.

 

Seonghwa dropped Hongjoong home every night he worked, always ready with a hot drink. Sweet things, mostly, chocolate and strawberry and lattes with hardly any coffee in them. The awkwardness that lingered dissipated little by little, and soon Hongjoong was texting Seonghwa randomly like he used to, and Seonghwa replied with cute emoticons and pictures of random, pretty things.

But Seonghwa never touched Hongjoong. And Hongjoong never thought he’d be the one to miss it, he’d never been so into contact and touches like that, but it was so jarring to be around Seonghwa and not have him reach out to him. Seonghwa loved being physically close. He was holding himself at a distance. 

One night, Seonghwa asked Hongjoong out on what was undoubtedly a date. “It’s a play,” he said. “One of my friends is in it and asked me to watch. I’d love it if you’d go with me.”

“Sure,” said Hongjoong without thinking, and the smile on Seonghwa’s face told him he’d made the right decision.

So on Sunday night Hongjoong got dressed up, not too fancy but fancy enough, and went downstairs to meet Seonghwa. As usual, Seonghwa was there and waiting for him. He also had a hot cup of something that smelled wonderfully of vanilla and cinnamon.

“Are you serious?” asked Hongjoong with a laugh, taking the cup. “We’re going to see a play.”

“You can finish it before we get there,” insisted Seonghwa.

He was right. The drive was a long one, and by the time Seonghwa pulled in to the theatre at the end of a long complaint about the latest plot twist in the drama he was watching, Hongjoong only had a few sips left.

The place wasn’t as fancy as Hongjoong had feared, and he didn’t feel too out of place. But it didn’t help when a breathtakingly beautiful woman came up to them in the main lobby, bedecked in bright clothing and heavy makeup, and took both of Seonghwa’s hands in hers.

“You came,” she said, smiling brightly. She looked at Hongjoong. “And you brought your boyfriend too! It’s so nice to meet you. I’m Park Kyungri, I’m a friend of Seonghwa’s.”

“Kim Hongjoong,” said Hongjoong, returning her smile. Her enthusiasm seemed genuine, and it eased his nerves. 

“I’ll catch you guys after the show,” said Kyungri. “I need to head backstage right now. Let me know if you like it!”

“I’m sure we will,” said Seonghwa. “See you, noona.”

Kyungri smiled and nodded, and then left in a flurry of skirts. 

There were a lot of people, and it seemed tickets had been sold out. Hongjoong and Seonghwa were in the third row from the front. Not soon after they’d taken their seats the lights dimmed, and the show started.

It was a good production. All the costumes were well made, the music and set design too. Kyungri played the lead role, a young woman trying to stand on her own feet as her family tried to sell her freedom to a cruel lord. She was a wonderful actress. Near the climax her character’s father fell ill, and she delivered a teary performance that almost had Hongjoong choking up too.

A light touch on his hand brought him back to reality. Hongjoong started and turned to find Seonghwa looking at him, equally surprised. He glanced down at his hand, still hovering over Hongjoong’s. 

“Sorry,” he whispered hoarsely. “Sorry, I forgot, I… it won’t happen again.” 

He went back to watching the stage, but Hongjoong couldn’t focus on it anymore. Seonghwa was wearing a ring on his left hand, right on his pinky, and a bracelet. It was hard to see in the low light, but they looked like dull gold or brass. 

It was the bracelet Hongjoong had given him. He was wearing it, along with the ring he’d bought the first time they’d gone out together. Hongjoong looked up at his face, and Seonghwa was too absorbed in the play to notice. His eyes glimmered from the stage lights. Hongjoong stared at him, rapt, suddenly remembering the night he’d gone down to meet him, the way Seonghwa had blinked back tears then. Hongjoong had never seen him cry. He never wanted to. 

Hongjoong put his hand over Seonghwa’s, fingers curling around his. He watched as Seonghwa turned to him, surprised. And then, slowly, he reached with his other hand for Seonghwa’s face.

Seonghwa closed his eyes and went with him willingly.

The kiss was soft, brief, sweet like the vanilla and cinnamon Hongjoong had had earlier that night. He pulled back to see Seonghwa smiling, eyes still glimmering like diamonds from the bright lights of the stage. And then Seonghwa leaned into Hongjoong and kissed him again.

Hongjoong watched the rest of the play with Seonghwa’s hand snugly around his, feeling more at ease than he had in a long time. 

Chapter Text

“Hongjoong?”

Seonghwa turned a corner, eyes seeking that distinct head of silver. There were a lot of people in the building, more people than he’d expected, and they milled around in groups of twos and threes. The walls between the busy people and paintings were a muted gray, frustratingly similar to the head Seonghwa was looking for. How could he have lost him? He’d been right there, right next to him—

“Peach?” 

Seonghwa turned, tension running off him as he saw that beautiful face, eyes bright with a hint of amusement. Hongjoong walked towards him from the other side of the room, lopsided grin on his face.

“Were you looking for me?” he asked. “Sorry, I didn’t realize I’d left you behind.”

“It’s okay,” said Seonghwa. And it was. He was with Hongjoong, they were together. Everything was okay.

They wandered the gallery together, lingering at pieces Hongjoong liked. Seonghwa didn’t understand much about art but it was always a joy to hear Hongjoong talk about it, to hear him when he was focused and enthusiastic and enjoying himself.

“You know a lot about art,” said Seonghwa. When Hongjoong looked at him with raised eyebrows, he added, “It’s really cool.”

“Uh, thanks,” said Hongjoong, cheeks going pink in embarrassment. It was stunning. “I don’t really, I just know some stuff…”

“You know a lot more than me,” said Seonghwa earnestly. 

Hongjoong mumbled another thanks and looked away, ears and cheeks dusted with red.

If Seonghwa stopped to think about it, he marveled at how he was with Hongjoong. Hongjoong was the most interesting, fiery, incredible person he’d ever met. Yes, he could be frustrating and painfully stubborn, but it was another side of his charm. It was another thing that made him uniquely Hongjoong.

And he wanted to be with Seonghwa. He wanted to do this, walk around art galleries with him, look at him and talk about the paintings and their details with him.

After what had happened, it was still a little surreal to Seonghwa. 

He knew, logically, Hongjoong had no reason to forgive him for hiding the truth for so long. And yet Hongjoong had. They’d moved past it, they were still together, and it didn’t feel exactly like reality. 

When they’d made a trip around and Hongjoong had doubled back to look at the ones he’d particularly liked, they found themselves near the front door and ready to leave.

“Most of these are for sale,” said Seonghwa. 

“Do you want one?” asked Hongjoong.

“No,” said Seonghwa. He hesitated, and then said slowly, “But if you do…”

“I don’t,” said Hongjoong with a laugh. “Come on, let’s go.”

They went outside, where it was cold enough for Hongjoong’s breath to frost in the air. Seonghwa wrapped his scarf around his neck and pulled it up to cover his mouth.

“I thought you didn’t feel cold,” said Hongjoong, grinning as he noticed.

“I don’t,” said Seonghwa. He had to work harder to enunciate every word so that Hongjoong could understand clearly. “I don’t breathe, Hongjoong. When it’s cold, you can tell.”

“Oh.” Hongjoong blinked up at him, and then turned away, embarrassed. “Right.”

“You can still understand my words, right?” asked Seonghwa. He chuckled. “It’s kind of a pain.”

“Yeah, I hear you,” said Hongjoong. “So you’re like this every winter?”

“Every winter,” said Seonghwa. “It’s a payoff of sorts, because winter also means more hours of night.”

Hongjoong nodded, thinking it over. “We shouldn’t spend too much time outdoors, then,” he said.

Seonghwa felt his heart warm and soften. We. “I don’t mind,” he said.

“I can’t see half your face,” said Hongjoong.

“I didn’t know you were so desperate to see my face,” said Seonghwa mischievously.

Hongjoong laughed and shoved him. Seonghwa let himself get pushed away a moment and then swayed right back to Hongjoong’s side.

“So,” he said slowly. “I know you’re an artist and maybe I shouldn’t ask but…”

“I am not an artist,” insisted Hongjoong. His cheeks and ears were red, perhaps from the cold, but Seonghwa liked to imagine because of him. “I just… draw sometimes.”

Seonghwa sighed. “We’re not bringing up this argument again,” he said. “I just wanted to know if you were working on the painting I asked you to do for me.”

“That?” Hongjoong looked at him, grinned. “Of course. Or you thought I threw it out when we were fighting?”

“Well…” Seonghwa hadn’t really been sure. For a few terrible nights he hadn’t thought of them as fighting, but broken up.

“I didn’t,” said Hongjoong with a laugh. “I’m working on it, little by little. You can’t rush art.”

“I know,” said Seonghwa. “I was just a little curious.” He hesitated, and then asked, “I’m guessing there’s no chance of me seeing it…?”

Hongjoong threw his head back and laughed. “Oh, no way.”

By now they’d walked up to what looked to be a park of sorts, but much smaller than the one near Seonghwa’s house. It had many flowerbeds, bare at this time of year, circular and rectangular patches of dry earth lined with pebbles painted white. They walked up paths paved with small white stones flattened by a thousand shoes, until Hongjoong made his way to an empty bench. Seonghwa slid in beside him, close. Hongjoong let him, and Seonghwa treasured the press of Hongjoong’s small body against his. He really was made to fit against Seonghwa’s side like this.

“Have you ever had a painting made of you?” asked Hongjoong.

“A long time ago,” said Seonghwa. “Taehee-noona had me sit for a painting when she first bought the house. I think it’s still there, in the extra room.” He grinned, shook his head. “It was terrible. I had to sit like that for hours, I couldn’t even move my face.” 

He thought of that painting, and of the matching one of Taehee that had hung in the hallway upstairs for so long. Seonghwa had put them, and so many of Taehee’s things, in the extra room. He wondered if that had been wrong of him, packing away Taehee’s possessions, all the traces of her life, like she hadn’t lived in that very house so many years. He wondered if she would have been upset if she had been alive, or if she would’ve understood. Seonghwa couldn’t live like that, faced with reminders of her life, her death, tearing him down in his own home. 

“Sounds like hell.” 

Seonghwa blinked, returning to the present. To Hongjoong, his silver hair falling over and into his bright eyes, the way his features carried his expressions. “It was,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons I didn’t ask Wooyoung or Yeosang to get theirs painted.” He snorted, trying to imagine Wooyoung sitting still for an hour straight.

“How did you guys end up together?” asked Hongjoong. “I know you talked a little about it before, but you never really said how you ended up becoming a—a coven.”

“Convenience, mostly,” said Seonghwa. He saw Hongjoong’s eyes widen with surprise, and smiled. “They were struggling, trying to find safety and security. I was all alone in the house after Taehee-noona’s death, and I needed company. It worked.”

“So you were like, what, roommates?” Hongjoong looked perplexed. 

“If so, they were the worst roommates,” said Seonghwa, grinning. “They had no money for rent, or anything, really. They didn’t own much more than a few sets of clothes and makeup.”

“Makeup?”

“It’s how they lured humans,” said Seonghwa. 

As soon as the words were out, he realized he’d made a mistake. Hongjoong’s expression darkened, and his body stiffened against Seonghwa’s. “Lured,” he repeated.

“They had to,” said Seonghwa. “People weren’t as open to the idea of being bitten as they are now, and for vampires less well-off like them they had no choice. They were near starvation when I found them hanging around one of the hotspots that popped up and disappeared every few weeks. As far as I know, they never killed anyone.”

As far as I know. The vampire-hunting years had been merciless, and desperate. Seonghwa had survived them in relative comfort. He didn’t think it his place to ask or judge Wooyoung and Yeosang for whatever they might’ve had to do. All he could do was hope they hadn’t had to do it.

Hongjoong looked at him, eyes sharp, and for a moment Seonghwa was scared he would pick up on his phrasing and poke more about Wooyoung and Yeosang’s doings. But he didn’t. Instead, he said, “You’re close with them. Wooyoung… and Yeosang.”

“Yeah,” said Seonghwa. He put an arm around Hongjoong, because he could, because Hongjoong let him. “I half expected them to leave when it was safe. But they didn’t. We became kind of a family.”

Hongjoong leaned into him. “You’re so different.”

“Me and Wooyoung? Or Wooyoung and Yeosang?” Seonghwa laughed. “I guess.”

“You and Yeosang, actually,” muttered Hongjoong.

“I think Yeosang and I are actually pretty similar,” said Seonghwa. “When you get to know him better, you’ll see.”

He waited. He waited to see if Hongjoong would pick up on that, on Seonghwa’s expectation and hope that he’d get closer with his coven, his family. Seonghwa wanted to be with Hongjoong for a long time, and that meant Hongjoong knowing the others, and them knowing him. Yeosang, and Mingi, Jongho. Wooyoung. 

“Doesn’t seem like it,” said Hongjoong.

Seonghwa accepted that. It would take more time, then. He was alright with that. He had time. With Hongjoong, he was more than willing to wait until he was comfortable with getting to know the others, with getting the others to know him. 

“Can I kiss you?” asked Seonghwa.

Hongjoong started, and looked up at him with wide eyes. “Wh—right now? Here?”

Seonghwa nodded.

Hongjoong glanced around, checking if there were any eyes on them. He disliked being watched. Seonghwa wondered if Hongjoong knew how beautiful he was, how difficult it was to not look at him. 

When he was satisfied, Hongjoong nodded. Seonghwa pulled his scarf down with his left hand while the other went to the back of Hongjoong’s head. 

The kiss was brief, too brief, like it always was with Hongjoong. Seonghwa could’ve kissed him for hours. He stayed close, even after they’d parted, eyes taking in every detail of Hongjoong’s ethereal face.

“What?” asked Hongjoong softly, smile playing on his lips. 

“Nothing,” murmured Seonghwa.

“It’s like you always have something you wanna say to me,” said Hongjoong. “Whatever it is, you can tell me. I can’t promise I won’t be mad, but I’ll try.” He grinned.

I love you. It must’ve been obvious on his face, but Seonghwa couldn’t say it, not yet. Instead he smiled, shook his head, and then leaned forward to kiss Hongjoong again.

 

✤✥✣✥✤

 

Yunho opened the door and was greeted with Yeosang’s smiling face. 

“What—What are you doing here?” he asked, surprised.

“I came to see you,” said Yeosang. “Can I come in?”

“Yeah, of course,” said Yunho. He moved away from the doorway, let Yeosang enter. “You should’ve called or something. Hongjoong-hyung could’ve been home.”

“I had a feeling he wouldn’t be,” said Yeosang.

“Well, you were right,” said Yunho, shrugging. “He went out some time ago.” 

Only the table lamp was on in the living room, and Yunho went to switch on the others before Yeosang stopped him with a hand and a smile. “Don’t bother, I don’t mind the dark,” he said. “And I’m only stopping by to give you this.”

He hefted a shopping bag in front of him and Yunho took it. “For me?”

“Yeah, for you,” said Yeosang. “Not from me, though, I’m only the courier.” 

“It’s…” Yunho looked up from the bag. “Mingi?”

Yeosang nodded.

He had a soft, warm smile on his face, but Yunho felt himself heat up in embarrassment at the sight of it. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “You came all the way out here because—he—for me—”

“It’s no problem,” said Yeosang. “I’m glad to have a reason to leave the house. Do you want privacy?”

He motioned to the bag, and Yunho felt the heat spike. “No, it’s cool,” he said. “I’m sure it’s—it’s cool, it’s fine, he…”

“Just open it before you explode,” said Yeosang, grinning.

Right. Yunho should do that. He hefted the bag, found whatever was inside was moderately heavy. And had no sharp corners—he didn’t see any poking at the material of the bag. Yunho reached into the bag and pulled it out.

It was an owl. A figurine of a snow white owl, with curved beak and golden eyes. Every detail had been put into it, down to the edges of the wings and the feathers, the ridges of the talons sitting on the platform of rich wooden brown.

“Hedwig,” Yunho murmured to himself. 

The owl had been one of Yunho’s favorites in Harry Potter. He’d told Mingi that once, in the middle of one of his super long monologues on the series. Mingi had remembered. He’d not only remembered, he’d gone out of his way to get this for Yunho, and then sent it to him through his friend. 

Yunho looked up at Yeosang. “Thank you.” 

“Like I said, no problem,” said Yeosang. “Do you want me to take anything to him?”

“I don’t—I didn’t get him anything,” said Yunho. Shit. He should’ve gotten Mingi something, he should’ve prepared—

“I think,” said Yeosang slowly, “you can just give him something you wear. So he’ll know your scent.”

Yunho gaped at him. “Is that—okay?”

Yeosang nodded.

“Wait here a sec,” said Yunho.

He ran to his bedroom. It was a mess, because San hadn’t cleaned recently, and he was the only one in the house even close to neat. Yunho went through his clothes, looking for something good. For the first time he wished he had an army of stuffed animals like San. Mingi would probably like one of those.

But all Yunho had to offer was a plain sweatshirt, soft and gray and in good condition. He folded it as well as he could (which wasn’t that well) and then returned to the living room with it. 

He offered it to Yeosang, embarrassed, and Yeosang put it in the bag he’d brought. The Hedwig figure was sitting on the table nearby.

“Okay, thanks,” said Yeosang. “Mingi is going to be over the moon getting this.”

“No, thank you,” said Yunho earnestly. “You didn’t have to do this.”

“Like I said, no problem,” said Yeosang. He paused. “I like you.”

“Uh…” Yunho didn’t know what to say. “Thanks?”

“No, stop,” said Yeosang with a laugh. “I like you, because you like Mingi. You care for him as he is. That makes you a good guy to me.”

He looked sincere, and it touched Yunho. “Thank you,” he said.

“You’re welcome,” said Yeosang. “Well… I guess I’ll get going now.”

“Hey, you don’t have to go so soon,” said Yunho. “You wanna hang out for some time? I’m stuck alone until San comes back anyway.”

Yeosang hesitated, but eventually smiled and said, “Okay.”

They watched TV together. Yunho considered Yeosang a kind-of friend, sometimes talking to him over the phone or when he appeared in one of his video calls with Mingi. He was quiet, but quickly warmed up to Yunho, and before long was covering his face and batting at him with his too-long sleeves as he laughed.

“No, go back,” said Yeosang, tugging at Yunho’s arm as he flicked through the channels. The drama they’d been watching had gone to commercial break. “I like that song.”

It was a music program, and a female idol group was performing. Yeosang watched avidly, following along with their hand motions apparently subconsciously.

“I didn’t know you were such a girl group addict,” said Yunho, grinning.

“I am not,” said Yeosang, so indignantly Yunho burst out laughing. “Really,” he insisted. “I’m nothing compared to Seonghwa.”

“Can you do the dance?” asked Yunho.

Yeosang side-eyed him. “Maybe.”

“Okay, you gotta teach me,” said Yunho, jumping up. He grabbed Yeosang and pulled him to his feet. “Come on. From the start of the chorus. Like this, right?”

“You can’t be serious,” said Yeosang, laughing, but he got into the starting position.

They got a few moves down before Yunho misstepped and brought his foot down right on Yeosang’s. Yeosang yelped and started bouncing on one foot, and Yunho tried to apologize but he was laughing too hard.

“I’m okay, I’m okay,” said Yeosang. “Wow, you could at least ask.”

“Are you okay?” wheezed Yunho. 

Yeosang burst into laughter, covering his mouth with both hands. Yunho grabbed him by the shoulders to help steady him just as there was a click and the front door opened.

San entered the apartment, and then stopped dead in the doorway as he spotted the two of them. 

“Yeosang-ssi?” he said finally.

Yeosang sobered up and stood straight. “Hello.”

“Oh, hey,” said Yunho. “You’re back early.”

“Class ended early,” said San, stepping in and out of his shoes. “Yeosang-ssi, I didn’t know you were coming over.” He glanced at Yunho. “And to… meet Yunho?”

“Just came to drop off something,” said Yeosang. “I should probably leave now.”

“Aw, no, stay,” said Yunho, slinging an arm around Yeosang’s shoulders. Yeosang looked at him, and then at San.

“Yeah, you should stay,” said San with a bright smile. 

“Well, alright then,” said Yeosang.

He sat down, ending the impromptu dance lesson, and Yunho did too. San left to shower and change. 

Yunho changed back to the drama they’d been watching, and they watched in silence for some time. Then San came back, freshly showered and hair still damp, and sat on Yeosang’s other side on the couch.

“Don’t you want something to eat?” asked Yunho. “I think Hongjoong-hyung made something before he left.”

San shook his head. “I’ll eat later,” he said. “I wanna watch whatever you’re watching.” He smiled.

Yunho shrugged, and went back to the drama.

The show had just come back from another commercial when Yunho’s phone started ringing. He grabbed it off the table and checked the caller ID, smiling when he saw who it was.

“I’ll be right back,” he said. San looked up and smiled with a nod. Yeosang nodded too, eyes still on the screen. 

The kitchen was blindingly bright after the dim light of the living room, and Yunho’s eyes stung for a couple of seconds after switching on the lights. He rubbed them as he picked up the call. “Hey.”

“Hey,” said Mingi. “So, uh, you’re home, right?”

He sounded nervous, and Yunho grinned. “Yeah, why?”

“No reason,” said Mingi, more nervous than ever. “So, hey, funny question—”

“Did Yeosang come over? Yeah, he did,” said Yunho with a laugh. “Thank you, Ming, I love it.”

Mingi let out an obvious sigh of relief, and Yunho laughed again. “I’m glad you liked it,” said Mingi. “It’s smaller than they wrote online and I was kinda worried, it’s not that special.”

“It is special,” said Yunho, and to him it really was. “You didn’t have to.”

“I just thought you should have something,” said Mingi. “We can’t do a lot of the stuff other—other people do, but I can still give you things.”

Yunho smiled and shook his head, even though he knew Mingi couldn’t see. For a moment he thought of bringing up the possibility of them meeting, but decided against it. That was a serious thing, and he didn’t want to upset Mingi with it now. 

Instead, he said, “Thank you. I really like it a lot.”

And he heard Mingi laugh sweetly on the line. Yunho thought he would float away from the sound of it. 

“I’m glad,” said Mingi, and Yunho could hear the smile in his voice. “You said you were sad when the owl died, right? You have her now so you don’t have to be sad anymore.”

Yunho grinned. “So you’ll give me things every time I even talk about being sad.”

“Totally,” said Mingi. “Think of me as your ideal man, Yunho.”

“You already are,” said Yunho, and he grinned even wider when he heard Mingi squeak. “I actually have something for you.”

“Yeah?” Mingi sounded excited. “What is it?”

“It’s with Yeosang,” said Yunho. “You’ll get it tonight.”

“Really?” A loud rustle on the line as Mingi moved. “I can’t wait.”

San walked into the kitchen and motioned to Yunho just as Mingi started talking excitedly about his gift. “Ming, sorry, I need to go,” said Yunho, while San walked up to him and leaned against the counter. “We’ll talk later?”

“Yeah, of course,” said Mingi. “I can’t wait to see what you gave me!” 

“I hope you’ll like it,” said Yunho, smiling. “Bye.”

“Bye!”

And then Mingi ended the call, and Yunho put down his phone. “What’s up?” he asked San.

San didn’t waste any time. “Yeosang,” he said. “You’re friends with him. How?”

“What do you mean, how?” Yunho didn’t understand. “I talked to him? Aren’t you friends with him too?”

“Not exactly,” said San carefully.

“What?” Yunho was taken aback. “You and Yeosang aren’t friends? You talk about hanging out at his house all the time.” 

“Yeah, and he’s usually there,” said San. He glanced at the open kitchen door. “But I get the feeling he doesn’t like me,” he continued in a lower voice. “And, like, he never said anything but I can tell. I don’t know what to do. How did you get him to like you?”

“I don’t know,” said Yunho. “He just—likes me. Because I like Mingi.”

“I like Mingi too,” said San exasperatedly. “And Wooyoung, and Seonghwa-hyung and Jongho. Why doesn’t he like me?”

Yunho shrugged. “I guess you gotta ask him.”

San glared up at Yunho, and then turned away sulkily. “I tried really hard,” he said. “I was friendly and warm. Then I thought maybe I was too much and being annoying, so I cooled down. But he still won’t like me—he refuses to like me—and I’m getting kinda sick of trying.”

“This really bothers you, huh?” asked Yunho. Enough for San to bring it up while Yeosang was sitting in the next room.

“Of course it does,” said San. “He—he’s Wooyoung’s…” He trailed off, like he couldn’t find the word, and then rallied. “If he doesn’t like me, if he really, really hates me, then… Wooyoung…”

“You think Wooyoung would break up with you?” Yunho couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Because of—Yeosang?”

San didn’t say anything, but his answer was obvious.

“Dude, Wooyoung wouldn’t break up with you over anything,” said Yunho. “He’s crazy about you. And you know Yeosang would never ask him to. He’s a really nice guy.”

“I know,” murmured San.

“I’m sure he’ll warm up to you,” said Yunho. “It’s impossible to not like you, San. Even when you’re annoying you’re sweet.”

“You think?” San looked up at Yunho with big eyes.

“I know,” said Yunho wisely.

“Yunho.”

The deep familiar voice drew Yunho’s attention. He looked up at the doorway, at the figure standing just inside it, and froze.

It was Yeosang. But he looked different.

He was white, white like powder and paint and snow. His skin was so white it was almost reflective. It made his eyes stand out golden in his pretty face, his birthmark redder than ever on his cheek.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, and then glanced at his hand and smiled. “Oh. Never seen a vampire under bright light before?”

That was the thing. Yunho had, but he hadn’t known it was a vampire then. He’d thought it was just a home invader wearing too much powder or makeup.

A home invader Hongjoong had rushed in to save, and then held hands with. 

“I have some errands to run, so I have to go,” said Yeosang. “Thanks so much for letting me stay a while.”

Yunho nodded blankly. He couldn’t talk.

“Thank you for coming,” said San. “You can come over anytime, we’d love it if you came.”

Yeosang smiled, and San saw him to the front door, bright and bubbly. Yunho stood where he was. His brain was too busy screaming at him to move his feet.

Vampires. White under kitchen lights. Hongjoong-hyung’s boyfriend. White under kitchen lights. Then Hongjoong-hyung’s boyfriend—

Yunho ran into the living room. “San!”

San had just locked the door, and turned back to look. “Yeah?”

“Dude,” said Yunho. He was sure he was going to explode. “Dude. Fuck. Yeosang, he—in the kitchen—”

“What, the paleness?” asked San. “He’s right, vampires look like that in bright lights, especially under those ugly fluorescent bulbs. Woo has to wear makeup to go shopping.”

“Shit,” said Yunho. Then it was true. Of course it was true, he believed Yeosang, but it was true—

“Hey, calm down,” said San. He grabbed Yunho by the upper arms. “What happened? Why are you freaking out?”

“It—damn it, San.” Yunho took a deep breath. “I’m gonna tell you something. You can’t tell Hongjoong-hyung. Ever, ever, ever.”

“What is it?” San’s brow furrowed. 

Yunho took another deep breath. “Hongjoong-hyung’s boyfriend is a vampire.”

San screamed.

Yunho didn’t even try to stop him. He kind of wanted to scream too.

“How do you know?” demanded San, shaking him. “Why didn’t you tell me before?”

“I didn’t know,” groaned Yunho. He told San about it all, the incident with the boyfriend in the kitchen, how his skin had looked just like Yeosang’s. “I didn’t understand then,” he said. “I was so stupid, oh my god, I thought—I thought he was goth or something—”

San looked like he was going to scream again, but held it in. “I can’t believe it,” he said.

“Me neither,” said Yunho. He’d never have believed it in a hundred years. Hongjoong? Dating a vampire?

“That bastard,” San hissed suddenly. “That’s why he didn’t want us to meet him. He knew I’d be able to tell.”

“Hey, hold up,” said Yunho. “We don’t know he knows.”

San stared at him in disbelief. “Are you kidding? Of course hyung knows!”

“He might not,” said Yunho. “I didn’t know vampires looked like that in kitchens. Maybe Hongjoong-hyung doesn’t know either. I mean, how would he know?”

“They banged, Yunho,” said San flatly. “You should be able to tell the dick you’re sucking is room temperature.”

“Oh, my god, shut up!” yelled Yunho. He did not want to think about Hongjoong—oh fuck now he was thinking about it— 

“It’s the truth!” San yelled back. “Wooyoung’s dick is room temperature, Mingi’s dick—”

Yunho clamped his hands over his ears. He did not want to hear this.

“—Yeosang’s is room temperature,” San kept yelling, undeterred. “And so is hyung’s boyfriend’s! Hyung knows!”

“We don’t know that,” said Yunho, desperate to change the topic. 

“If hyung doesn’t know, he’s denser than a brick,” said San flatly. “You can hide it for a couple of weeks, sure. And then when someone asks why you’re not eating? Why you never go out during the day? Even you caught on to Mingi, and you never met in real life!”

That made sense. It made a lot of sense. But Yunho refused to believe it. “He can’t know,” he said. “You saw him, he didn’t even wanna eat the stuff Seonghwa-hyung sent over.”

“I saw him,” said San. “And you saw his boyfriend. It’s obvious, if Hongjoong-hyung doesn’t know he is the dumbest, most intentionally blind—”

The click of the front door cut through the air, and both Yunho and San froze.

The door opened and Hongjoong walked in.

“Oh, you’re both here,” he said, closing the door behind him. “San, did you eat?” He leaned down and started taking off his shoes.

San whipped his head to face Yunho. Ask him, he mouthed.

No way, Yunho mouthed back. What am I supposed to ask? 

“What are you guys doing?” 

Hongjoong had taken off his shoes, and now looked at Yunho and San in confusion. Yunho and San exchanged a glance. 

“Nothing,” said Yunho, squeezing the word out.

“Okay then,” said Hongjoong, but he didn’t look totally convinced. “San, you ate, right?”

“Not yet,” said San. He was handling things much better than Yunho, who desperately wished he could disappear. “Going right now. You, hyung?” 

“Yeah, sure, I could eat something,” said Hongjoong. “Yunho?”

Yunho tensed up. “I’m good,” he said. “I’m just… gonna go to my room.”

“Okay,” said Hongjoong. “Wait for me a sec, San, I’m just gonna change and shower.”

“Hyung, you didn’t eat on your date?” asked San innocently. “Does your boyfriend not like food?”

Hongjoong stopped. “Huh?” 

“Just asking,” said San, still in that innocent voice. “It’s like you always eat after coming home. You guys never go out for dinner? Or lunch?” 

Yunho fled before he could hear Hongjoong’s response. As soon as the door was closed and he couldn’t hear Hongjoong’s answer—Hongjoong’s excuse—he collapsed on his bed. He wished he’d never found out about Hongjoong’s boyfriend. He wished he’d never told San, who it seemed was set on digging a confession out of Hongjoong, or at least making him squirm. 

Yunho groaned and stretched out flat on the bed. He was really not made for this. 

Chapter Text

Yunho was sitting in the living room eating cookies straight from the box when Hongjoong came out of his room. He glanced at Hongjoong, looked at the TV, and then hesitated and turned back to Hongjoong. “Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” said Hongjoong, trying to sound casual and unbothered. 

He didn’t know how well he did. Yunho nodded and went back to his cookies.

Hongjoong had noticed a change in both Yunho and San over the last couple of days. He knew the two of them had some mutual friends and things they didn’t include him in—intentionally or not—but it was getting more serious. Yunho looked awkward around Hongjoong sometimes, uncomfortable, and it bothered Hongjoong in ways he couldn’t articulate. Yunho was never uncomfortable with Hongjoong. He was Hongjoong’s right hand man. They didn’t tell each other everything, but they were always relaxed and close. This wasn’t relaxed and close. 

“Hey, Yunho,” said Hongjoong, leaving the shoes he’d been about to wear. Seonghwa wouldn’t mind waiting a couple of minutes. “Is anything up?”

“No,” said Yunho. He shoved even more cookies in his mouth. “Is anything up with you?”

“Not really,” said Hongjoong as he walked up to the couch. “You know, if something’s bothering you, you should tell me.”

Yunho looked up sideways at him. “What would be bothering me?”

“I dunno, you’re the one that’s bothered,” said Hongjoong. He was getting frustrated. Yunho was usually so straightforward.

But he wasn’t this time. This time Yunho stared at Hongjoong’s face, like he was looking for something there. And then he went back to watching TV.

Hongjoong tried another route. “How are things with that guy you’re talking to online?”

“Good,” said Yunho, not taking his eyes off the screen. 

“Good,” said Hongjoong. Shit, now he was awkward too. “Are you gonna meet him any time soon?”

“He lives outside Seoul,” said Yunho.

“That sucks,” said Hongjoong. “Hey, we could go and see him. Maybe like a weekend trip? I’ll move some of my shifts around and we could leave Seoul for a couple of days.”

“Oh, yeah, that—that sounds great,” said Yunho, but he didn’t sound too excited. He just sounded awkward. 

“Great,” repeated Hongjoong. He didn’t feel like continuing this conversation anymore, not when Yunho obviously didn’t want to talk to him. “I’m going out. Take care of the apartment until San comes back.”

He went back to the front door, stepped into the shoes he’d picked out. He was just leaving when Yunho called out, “Have fun with your boyfriend.”

There was something a little forced in the way he said it, and Hongjoong paused. But Yunho was still watching TV, eyes on the screen. Hongjoong huffed and left.

Seonghwa was waiting, standing outside his car. He took Hongjoong into a long, close hug when he came up to him, which was unusual, but Hongjoong didn’t mind.

“Whoa, everything okay?” he asked with a laugh.

“Everything’s fine,” said Seonghwa, looking a little surprised. “Why?”

“No reason,” said Hongjoong, smiling. “Thanks for coming so suddenly.”

It was Tuesday night, and usually Hongjoong would be working at the convenience store, but they had asked him to come in the next night instead. He’d called Seonghwa just the night before and asked if they could reschedule their Wednesday meet, and so here they were, Seonghwa stylish in a slate gray and black coat that reached down to his knees, Hongjoong trying to pretend like he wasn’t so taken by the cherry pink lip tint he wore.

“I would never miss a chance to see you,” said Seonghwa, with a brief tug at Hongjoong’s waist. He saw Hongjoong cringe, and laughed and said, “Don’t pretend like you don’t love when I say things like that. Come on, let’s go.”

They were going shopping for art supplies. Hongjoong was working steadily on Seonghwa’s painting, adding to it every chance he got, and needed a few specific colors to create what he wanted. Even in his mind the picture was hazy, but Hongjoong knew he’d recognize what he wanted the moment he saw it. He was still building up to it.

“How do you have room in your bedroom for all your equipment?” asked Seonghwa as he made a smooth left turn. 

“I am a master at organizing,” said Hongjoong. “I can squeeze space out of anything.”

Seonghwa laughed. “You know I’ve seen your bedroom, right?”

“You caught me at a bad time,” said Hongjoong, burning up in embarrassment while Seonghwa laughed even more. “I’m usually super neat.”

“Your room was a disaster,” said Seonghwa. “At least your kitchen was better. I’m sure that’s San and Yunho’s credit.”

Hongjoong grumbled. He couldn’t even deny it.

“How are they?” asked Seonghwa. “San hasn’t come over in a while.”

Hongjoong hesitated, unsure how much he could or even would be able to say, and then gave in. “They’ve been weird,” he said.

“Weird? How?” Seonghwa frowned.

“Like, wrong,” said Hongjoong. “Like different around me. Yunho’s so awkward, it’s fucking weird. And San keeps asking me weird questions.”

“What kind of weird questions?” asked Seonghwa.

Hongjoong squirmed. “About—you.”

“Me?” Seonghwa gave Hongjoong a glance filled with surprise. “Like me me, or…?”

“Like the guy I’m going out with,” said Hongjoong. He didn’t know why but talking about it made him horribly uncomfortable.

“Oh.” Seonghwa glanced at Hongjoong again. “What does he ask?”

“Weird stuff,” said Hongjoong, fidgeting. “Like, what do you do, and what you like to eat. Weird stuff.”

“That’s not that weird,” said Seonghwa. He kept his gaze locked ahead, even though they were in traffic and the car had stopped. “You’re close. He wants to know about who you’re seeing.”

“I guess,” murmured Hongjoong. He knew the only reason San hadn’t already squeezed everything out of him was because he didn’t want returned questions about Wooyoung. Hongjoong could live with that. 

Seonghwa licked his lower lip. “I could answer all his questions. If we told him everything.”

Hongjoong’s gut squeezed. When he said nothing, Seonghwa turned and looked at him, eyes all dark and sincere in that way that was so Seonghwa.

“Hongjoong,” he started softly. 

“The other cars are moving,” said Hongjoong quickly.

Seonghwa licked his lower lip again, and then turned back to the road ahead. 

They rode along for a few seconds in silence, until Seonghwa said, “It’s okay.” He reached across and put his hand on Hongjoong’s knee.

Hongjoong swallowed. He put his hand over Seonghwa’s, curling his fingers under and around.

He didn’t know why he was so against telling San and Yunho about Seonghwa, but he couldn’t stand even the thought of it. It felt so big, and scary, a huge event that would upend everything. Like this, just Hongjoong and Seonghwa, things were safe and secure and comfortable. Something for just the two of them.

“You know I really like you,” said Hongjoong, sudden in the rumbling silence of the car. 

Seonghwa’s eyes widened in surprise at the unexpected confession, and Hongjoong felt his fingers squeeze his knee. He glanced at Hongjoong, caught his gaze, and something in his eyes softened. “Yeah,” he said. “I—I like you too, so much.” 

Hongjoong nodded, and smiled.

For the rest of the short drive Seonghwa kept his hand on Hongjoong’s knee as much as he could. As soon as they arrived and he parked the car, Seonghwa unbuckled his seatbelt and leaned across to kiss Hongjoong. 

“What?” asked Hongjoong once they parted. Seonghwa had had one hand in his hair, the other feeling around his neck, collarbones and chest, almost like he was seeking something.

“Just wanted to do that,” said Seonghwa, smiling. 

He looked happy and genuine, so Hongjoong didn’t bother asking any more.

The only store Hongjoong trusted for quality art supplies was open, very few customers wandering among the shelves. He made his way to the wall lined with swatches, looking for the exact shades he needed. Seonghwa stood beside him, silent, one hand resting on his lower back. The store was pretty empty so Hongjoong didn’t mind. 

“You can talk, you know,” he said, scanning the colors. 

“I don’t wanna disturb you.” Seonghwa’s fingers drummed Hongjoong’s back.

“I think I’d like it better if you did,” said Hongjoong. Seonghwa’s voice was soothing, and listening to him would keep Hongjoong from overthinking about what to pick. “Tell me about your—your coven. How did you meet Mingi and Jongho?”

“Okay then,” said Seonghwa. He removed his hand, only to bring it back against Hongjoong’s nape, resting on his bare skin. “The owners of the club we… visit, they found Jongho. This was around twelve, thirteen years ago. They were trying to clear the surrounding area of all the vampires that hung around but weren’t good enough to join.”

“Good enough,” said Hongjoong. He didn’t like that phrasing.

“Trustworthy enough, rather,” said Seonghwa. “Enough unsavory incidents and humans would stop coming. For that reason they don’t allow everyone to use the backrooms.”

“And Jongho wasn’t trustworthy enough.” Hongjoong was liking this less and less. 

“He didn’t have anyone to vouch for him,” said Seonghwa. “His maker had left him over a year before.”

Hongjoong didn’t miss how Seonghwa’s voice hardened when he mentioned Jongho’s maker. He remembered what Wooyoung had told him, about Jongho’s past, what his maker had done to him, and let go of some of the ill feelings he had still sitting inside.

“I happened to be there when Sanghyuk-nim was talking about getting him a place to stay,” continued Seonghwa. “As soon as I saw him I knew he was somebody special. I convinced him to come stay with me, at least for some time. And it’s been us since then.”

There was a quiet adoration in the way Seonghwa spoke of Jongho, soft but strong, loving. Not for the first time Hongjoong was touched by how much Seonghwa loved his family. He busied himself picking up a few colors, and asked, “And Mingi?”

“His maker came by the club, looking for someone to take him in,” said Seonghwa. He chuckled, and Hongjoong felt his fingers slide into his hair before he pulled his hand away. “He was so awkward and shy. But he was happy to join us, and in no time we were all one coven.”

“That’s nice,” said Hongjoong. And it was, in a way. If you looked past Wooyoung and Yeosang luring victims, Jongho creeping in the shadows around the vampire den to pounce on unsuspecting people, Mingi who needed to be ‘taken in’ despite being fully grown. 

He chose a few more shades, trying to ignore Seonghwa and his constant touches. He knew Seonghwa loved contact, but he usually didn’t touch so much, and not in public. It was like he literally couldn’t keep his hands off Hongjoong. 

After they paid—or, rather, Seonghwa did, insisting it was part of their terms that he pay for commission materials—they left the store. “So, where do you want to go now?” asked Seonghwa, reaching for Hongjoong’s free hand. 

Hongjoong looked down at their linked hands, and then back up at Seonghwa. He was suddenly reminded of something else Wooyoung had told him, that night at the diner when Hongjoong had asked him so many questions, and now he couldn’t stop thinking about it. 

“Peach,” he said. “I need to ask you something.”

“Yes?” A smile pulled at Seonghwa’s mouth.

Hongjoong fidgeted, uncomfortable, but he had to ask. “Are you hungry?” 

“I don’t eat,” said Seonghwa, brow furrowing a little in confusion but still with a smile on his face.

“Yeah, I know,” said Hongjoong. “That, uh, wasn’t what I was asking.” 

Seonghwa blinked at him. “Why?” He was no longer smiling.

Hongjoong hesitated, but gave in. “I talked to Wooyoung,” he said. “I kinda asked him what you were like when you needed to—to feed. Don’t worry, he has no idea why I asked. I just—like, I wanted to know.”

“What did he say?” asked Seonghwa, brow furrowed. 

“That you get kind of clingy,” said Hongjoong. He shifted. “And, um, it seemed like…” He trailed off, not knowing what to say.

He didn’t have to say anything. Seonghwa looked at him, down at their linked hands, then back up at Hongjoong. He immediately let go of Hongjoong’s hand and jumped back. 

“Sorry,” said Hongjoong. He watched, flustered, as Seonghwa covered his mouth with both hands. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to, I shouldn’t have brought it up…” 

“No, I’m sorry,” said Seonghwa. He was mortified. “I was supposed to tonight, but—it was short notice and I—I’m so sorry, I didn’t know I—it was that obvious—”

“No, it’s not,” said Hongjoong quickly. He’d never seen Seonghwa so embarrassed, literally hiding his face from him, and he rushed to try and make things better even though he had no idea how. “It’s because I asked Wooyoung before, that’s why—I mean, I guessed—”

“I’ll drop you home,” said Seonghwa. He lowered his hands and looked at Hongjoong and said, almost cautiously, “Is it okay if I drop you home?” 

Something in his look struck Hongjoong. He knew what it was about. “I’m not scared of you,” he said. 

“I know,” said Seonghwa, but it didn’t look like he did. “I was only asking because you might be uncomfortable.”

“I’m not,” said Hongjoong. “What will you do then?”

“Go home, I guess,” said Seonghwa. He saw the look on Hongjoong’s face and explained, “There’s a sort of schedule at the club. I’ll wait until before sunrise, it’s less busy then.”

“Before sunrise? So you can end up dying on the way home?” demanded Hongjoong. “No way.”

“I’ll be fine,” said Seonghwa. “It’s not dangerous, I’ve done it before.”

Hongjoong frowned. “For me?”

“No,” said Seonghwa, but he was lying. Hongjoong could see it on his face. Seonghwa must’ve been able to read Hongjoong’s expression too because he said, “It’s fine, Hongjoong. I’ve done it before and I’m fine. Besides, what else am I supposed to do now?”

The obvious solution was right in front of them. It had crept into Hongjoong’s mind the moment Seonghwa had offered to take him home and now it was stuck there, sinking its roots in. He knew what else Seonghwa could do. Seonghwa did too, even if he refused to see it. 

It was better than Seonghwa waiting until almost morning, driving home in the dawn. Weak and vulnerable like Hongjoong had seen him once, when he’d had to half carry him into his apartment and he’d collapsed in his bed, when he’d been terrified Seonghwa might die. It was nothing compared to that.

“You can feed from me,” said Hongjoong. 

Seonghwa’s eyes went wide and he took a step back. “No.” 

“Yes,” said Hongjoong firmly. “It’s better than you waiting until sunrise.”

“It’s not until sunrise, it’s before,” said Seonghwa. “I told you, it’s fine, you don’t have to.” 

“And I’m telling you, I’m fine too,” said Hongjoong. “It’s okay, it’s…” No big deal? Was that what Hongjoong was trying to say?

It didn’t look like Seonghwa agreed. “No,” he said. “I’ll just drop you home, you don’t need to worry about me.”

He looked so awkward and anxious, and Hongjoong couldn’t stand it. It was Hongjoong. Seonghwa shouldn’t be anxious around him. 

“This is not an offer anymore,” said Hongjoong. He crossed his arms. “Where do you wanna do this?”

Seonghwa looked like Hongjoong had just flipped his world upside down. “Hongjoong, you don’t have to—”

“Not an offer,” repeated Hongjoong. 

For a long time they just stayed like that, Seonghwa squirming and looking desperately awkward, Hongjoong trying to pretend like he was as steady as a rock. Inside he was losing it, but he couldn’t show weakness. Seonghwa would never give in if he did.

And then, finally, Seonghwa said, “Come with me.”

He took Hongjoong’s hand in his, and Hongjoong wondered if he could feel his heart pounding, it was so loud he was sure Seonghwa would be able to hear it. This was happening. 

It’s nothing, Hongjoong told himself, but it didn’t feel like nothing. It felt like a huge something.

They returned to Seonghwa’s car, and Seonghwa opened the passenger side door for Hongjoong. So they were driving somewhere. That was alright. Hongjoong was okay with that.

He lasted two minutes in silence before he cracked and asked, “Where are we going?”

“I have a place near here,” said Seonghwa.

Hongjoong nodded to himself. Of course Seonghwa would have more than one house. 

“I am so sorry,” said Seonghwa, keeping his gaze fixed ahead. “I didn’t know I’d get like that. And now because of me… you really don’t need to do this.” 

“Okay, now I’m getting kind of offended,” said Hongjoong, trying to lighten the mood. “You never drank from the other people you dated?”

“I did,” said Seonghwa. “You’re actually different from the others, because you never asked me.” He hesitated. “That’s why I’m so unwilling, because I know you are too. You’re only doing this for me.”

He was right, Hongjoong was only doing this for him, but he couldn’t say that. “I’m not unwilling,” he said instead. “I want to do this.”

Seonghwa glanced at him. “You’re sure?”

“I’m never not sure,” said Hongjoong. 

Another beat, another glance. They fell back into silence, but this one was less tense. Seonghwa drummed his fingers against the steering wheel, and he still looked a little nervous, but he didn’t apologize again and Hongjoong counted that as a victory.

Soon they arrived at an apartment building of at least ten floors, modern design and white in the city lights. The guard at the parking recognized Seonghwa and let him in. Hongjoong and Seonghwa took the elevator up to the top floor, the twelfth, and Seonghwa unlocked the first door on the landing. He moved aside to let Hongjoong enter first as he switched on the lights.

The inside of the apartment was decorated well, in white and warm tones of orange and gold. The combined living-dining room was big, with comfortable latte brown couches facing a wall-mounted flat screen TV, a low coffee table of polished ebony. Hongjoong looked through the open door at one end and into a pristine kitchen, filled with fancy appliances and marble countertops, all gleaming. 

“I thought you lived in that big house with everyone else,” said Hongjoong, looking around. He took off his jacket, hung it up beside the door next to Seonghwa’s. 

“I do,” said Seonghwa. “I only come here occasionally. After Mingi moved in I thought it would be better if I entertained guests here.”

Hongjoong stopped, and then turned to Seonghwa slowly. “Hold up,” he said. “Did you bring me to your sex pad?”

Seonghwa sputtered. “What?”

“You did,” said Hongjoong, grinning wildly. The flustered look on Seonghwa’s face was delicious. “You brought me to your sex pad. Park Seonghwa, should I be honored?”

“Stop calling it that,” said Seonghwa. If he could blush Hongjoong guessed he would be as red as a brick by now, and Hongjoong had never seen anything more hilarious. “It is not. It’s just my apartment.”

“Sure,” said Hongjoong, still with a huge grin. “You just ‘entertain guests’ here. I’m sure you’re great at entertaining.”

“You’re awful,” said Seonghwa, grinning with a grimace like he did in that unique way of his. 

You’re awful,” said Hongjoong. “How is your sex pad nicer than my apartment? How many bedrooms does it have?” 

“First, stop calling it that,” said Seonghwa. “And it has two bedrooms. I don’t really use the other, though.”

“Your sex pad has as many bedrooms as my actual apartment,” said Hongjoong, with an exaggerated frown. He couldn’t imagine owning an apartment like this, and Seonghwa was using it for one night stands.

Seonghwa took a deep breath, sighed. “It is not a sex pad,” he said, but he sounded like he was close to giving up. “And we can exchange, if you want. I’ll take up your apartment, you three move in here.” He stopped, thought things over. “I think I have three bedroom units in this building too…”

“Of course you own the building,” said Hongjoong with a laugh. “No thanks. Not only would it be a real pain to move, it would be awkward as hell if we broke up.”

“We’re not gonna break up,” said Seonghwa, pouting. “Why would you say that?”

“No, it’s like those hypothetical situations you talk about that would never happen,” said Hongjoong quickly. “Like, what would you do if a meteor hit Seoul?” 

“I’d grab you and get to an underground bunker,” said Seonghwa without hesitation. “The eight of us could fit, though it’d be a squeeze.”

“See? You thought about this,” said Hongjoong. “But why eight?”

“The five of us, and you, San, and Yunho,” explained Seonghwa. 

“You only met Yunho once and he already got a spot in your bunker?” Hongjoong laughed. “That’s fast.”

“You would murder me if I didn’t let him in,” said Seonghwa, grinning. 

Hongjoong shrugged. He would. 

“Do you want something to eat?” asked Seonghwa, drifting towards the kitchen. “I haven’t been here in weeks except to clean, so I probably don’t have much in my cupboards. I could go downstairs and get something? Or you could come shopping with me?”

“I don’t want anything to eat,” said Hongjoong. “Come on, let’s do this.” 

Seonghwa licked his lower lip, and nodded.

“Okay,” said Hongjoong, as nerves twisted his gut. He willed them away. “Where do you want me?” 

In response, Seonghwa took Hongjoong by the hand and led him out of the front room. The bedroom was big, bigger than Hongjoong’s, and far, far neater. One wall, the one the head of the queen size bed was against, was a shimmering pale gold from floor to ceiling and decorated with faint spirals of white. The wall opposite had a TV on it, and a closed door leading to what Hongjoong assumed was a bathroom. Potted plants lined the windowsill, and a few succulents sat on the bedside table next to a fancy lamp and a figurine of a character from an anime Hongjoong didn’t know. 

“So,” said Hongjoong. “This is where you entertain guests.” He couldn’t help himself.

Seonghwa raised an eyebrow at him. “Are you looking for entertainment?” 

“No,” said Hongjoong at once, as his face exploded in heat. “No, let’s—let’s just do what we came for.”

The satisfied grin on Seonghwa’s face dipped. “Right,” he said, serious. He motioned to the bed. “You’ll likely fall asleep afterwards,” he explained, seeing Hongjoong’s expression.

That made sense. Hongjoong distinctly remembered feeling drowsy after the last and only time he’d been bitten by a vampire, so he climbed onto the bed, sitting up against the headboard. 

Not just another vampire. Jongho. The thought sat heavy in the forefront of Hongjoong’s brain as Seonghwa placed pillows against the headboard for him to lean against. The last time Hongjoong had been fed from it had been against his will, by the little brother Seonghwa adored. And now here Hongjoong was, in a vampire’s apartment, sitting in a vampire’s bed, preparing to get bitten by a vampire.

Except it wasn’t just a vampire. It was Seonghwa. And if it was Seonghwa, it was okay. 

“Are you comfortable?” asked Seonghwa. 

Hongjoong nodded. He was as comfortable as he was ever going to get.

“You can back out if you want,” said Seonghwa. “Right now. I don’t mind, it’s totally okay.”

“I’m not backing out,” said Hongjoong firmly, but he couldn’t deny the nerves building inside. “Can you come here already?” 

Seonghwa hesitated a moment more, and then climbed onto the bed. 

Hongjoong told himself to relax, any more and Seonghwa would definitely be able to pick up on his heart pounding in his chest, but it was impossible. This room, the bed, Seonghwa moving closer to him—he should’ve been buzzing in anticipation but all he was was anxious. He was offering himself to be fed from. In seconds fangs would sink into his throat. 

Seonghwa came up to Hongjoong, right up against his body, and slid a hand into his hair. Hongjoong swallowed, tried to focus on his touch. It was okay. He was okay. He was with Seonghwa. 

He felt rather than saw Seonghwa lean in. He wasn’t breathing and it was strange, disturbing almost. He was close enough Hongjoong could imagine the flutter of his eyelashes against his neck. Hongjoong stilled, tensed, waiting. 

Cold lips pressed against Hongjoong’s skin. 

Hongjoong sucked in a deep breath. 

“Relax,” murmured Seonghwa, lips moving against the curve of Hongjoong’s neck. “I got you.” 

His fingers moved in Hongjoong’s hair, massaging his scalp. He shifted from Hongjoong’s neck, leaving openmouthed kisses into his shoulder, kissing and licking and nibbling at his skin with blunt teeth until Hongjoong’s eyes fluttered closed and he was sinking into the soft pillows at his back.

“Hongjoong,” said Seonghwa, soft and breathy.

Hongjoong nodded and reached around to sink his fingers into Seonghwa’s hair. 

Pain pierced through Hongjoong’s neck, sharp and cold and—

Bliss. 

Everything floated away. The pain, the nerves. Hongjoong was floating too, light and free, every burden he had ever experienced dissolving into nothing. Tingles ran along his skin, tugging but not insistent, mind-numbing, carrying him through a void of blissful nothing. Endless, timeless. The feeling wrapped Hongjoong’s mind, and he let it, he let go and let it take him to a state of calm infiniteness. 

Slowly, the feeling receded. Hongjoong was vaguely aware of being moved, being laid down. Sleep tugged at him, overpowering, sweet, and the touch in his hair and at his face only brought it closer.

Seonghwa, a voice whispered at the back of Hongjoong’s mind. He reached out to him, unsure what he wanted, only knowing he wanted him. Fingers carded through Hongjoong’s hair, and he felt a light press against his cheek, and no more.

Hongjoong fell asleep. 

 

Someone was pulling at him. Hongjoong groaned, trying to bat them away. He was sleeping. He wanted to keep doing it. 

“… Hongjoong, wake up…”

Hongjoong rolled over, trying to get away from the voice. Who the hell was messing with his sleep? 

“… I know you’re awake, stop pretending…”

That sounded like Seonghwa. Hongjoong groaned again, and wrenched his eyes open. “Wha’?”

It was Seonghwa. “Your phone is ringing,” he said, holding it out. “It’s San.”

“Tell’im ’m busy.” The words came out all mushed together, but understandable.

“Really?” Seonghwa’s look was obvious even through Hongjoong’s blurry vision. “You want me to talk to him?”

By now Hongjoong was awake enough to realize that was a bad idea. He took the phone from Seonghwa, answered the call, and let it sit on his face. 

“Hyung,” cried San as soon as he picked up. “Where are you? It’s super late! I thought you were just going shopping!”

“San,” said Hongjoong. He cleared his throat, trying to get the sleepy rasp out of it. “Sorry.”

“Are you—wait.” There was a loud rustle on the line. When San spoke again he was near screeching. “Were you asleep?”

Hongjoong flinched, stifled a groan. “Wha’? Yeah.” He was still half asleep.

“Did… did you get laid?” San’s voice was a loud, excited whisper. 

And Hongjoong was not in the mood for a conversation. So he sighed and said, “Yeah, sure.”

“You fucked? For real?” San was still whispering, but way too loud for a proper whisper, and definitely too loud for Hongjoong. 

“Yeah, for real,” said Hongjoong. “Don’t wait up for me. Bye.”

“Hyung, wait! Did you, like, have the heat up on high or—?”

Hongjoong cut the line.

He tossed his phone aside on the bed and was about to go back to his peaceful nap when he heard the unmistakable click of a phone camera. 

Hongjoong’s eyes shot open. Seonghwa was standing by the bed with his phone out, camera pointed right at him. “Did you just take a picture of me?” asked Hongjoong.

“Maybe,” said Seonghwa, grinning. He raised the phone a little and snapped another photo. 

“Delete that,” said Hongjoong, bolting upright. He did not need a picture of him like this, hair disheveled and face bloated with sleep, laying in Seonghwa’s bed.

“But you look so cute,” cooed Seonghwa. He tapped the screen, smiling at it.

“How many pictures did you take?” demanded Hongjoong, already walking over on his knees. He was wide awake now. “Delete them.”

“But look Hongjoong, you look so pretty,” said Seonghwa, turning the screen to him with a huge grin on his face.

Hongjoong swiped at it. Seonghwa pulled it up and out of reach, so Hongjoong grabbed his forearm instead, trying to drag it back down. He yanked Seonghwa down and forward, onto the bed, and then rolled so that their positions were reversed, Seonghwa on his back, Hongjoong on top of him. He snatched the phone from Seonghwa’s loose grip, while Seonghwa laughed with unrestrained delight.

The pictures were awful. They were also only two, one of Hongjoong after he’d tossed his own phone, the other of him glaring at the camera. 

“Don’t you look adorable?” asked Seonghwa sweetly.

“Shut up,” grumbled Hongjoong, but he didn’t delete the photos. Instead he looked down at Seonghwa, at his beautiful smile, the way his eyes shone in the golden lamp light. His dark hair fanned out on the sheets, some falling over his forehead. Hongjoong moved a strand off his face with a finger. 

“Thank you,” said Seonghwa softly.

“No problem,” said Hongjoong, smiling.

But Seonghwa shook his head. “I mean it,” he said. “Thank you for doing this for me.”

“Of course,” murmured Hongjoong. For you I’d do anything. 

“It means so much to me, more than you’ll ever know,” said Seonghwa. “It—it makes me feel like you trust me.”

“I do trust you,” said Hongjoong.

The smile that bloomed on Seonghwa’s face was so beautiful Hongjoong couldn’t resist leaning down and kissing him. Seonghwa raised his head to follow his lips, but Hongjoong pushed him back down, pressing in with a kiss. 

Then he flopped down onto Seonghwa, stretched out his arm, and took a quick picture of the two of them.

Seonghwa squawked and hid his face in Hongjoong’s shoulder. “You should’ve warned me! I had my eyes open.”

“Yeah, that’s what you’re supposed to do when someone takes a picture of you,” said Hongjoong, grinning. 

He inspected the photo. Seonghwa’s eyes were open, glowing gold and demonic. He looked stunning regardless. 

“Let me see,” said Seonghwa. He took the phone from Hongjoong, frowned at the screen. “We should take a proper picture together.” 

“Yeah, sure, one day,” said Hongjoong. He plucked the phone from Seonghwa’s fingers and threw it aside.

“Hey, be careful,” said Seonghwa, moving to get up. “One of the others might call me soon—”

Hongjoong pushed Seonghwa back down on the bed. And then he kissed him, long and deep, taking his tongue into his mouth, curling his fingers in his hair. Hongjoong pulled back a moment to look Seonghwa in the eyes, gaze intent, seeing the look reflected in Seonghwa’s. Then he lowered himself once more to kiss him again. 

Before long the phone was forgotten. 

Chapter Text

The beat in the club was heavy, fast, drowning out near everything else. Bodies moved to the music, packed together on the dance floor in a heady mix of smells. The scent of blood was overpowering. It pumped through people’s veins, calling like a siren song, heavy in the air.

Yeosang swayed on his feet, just enough to look like he was dancing. He wasn’t paying attention to the music, not really. He was just here to be one more body among all the others. All his effort had been expended, put into his appearance, into the leather pants that hugged his thighs, the loose mesh top that hung past his collarbones and showed the outline of his narrow waist, the heavy makeup he’d so carefully applied to his lips and eyes. He wasn’t here to dance. He was here for another reason entirely.

Hands settled on Yeosang’s hips, and he grinned. 

He schooled his features into a relaxed smile before he turned, finding himself face to face with a short man, shorter than him, with a round face and a greedy smile. Yeosang bit his lower lip, looking at the man with lidded eyes. Inviting. Easy. 

The man was taken immediately. He moved his hands from Yeosang’s hips to his waist, slipping in under his clothes. Yeosang barely showed a reaction. His skin crawled under the man’s grasping fingers, but he could force it down, he could swallow it without even a flicker in his expression. It was only a touch. It was unimportant. 

The human was getting greedy now, going all the way up Yeosang’s back until Yeosang could feel his oily fingers between his shoulder blades. He was impatient too, moving close up against him, right into his personal space. Yeosang took a breath he didn’t need, even though he knew the man was too far gone to even realize, and then he leaned forward, ready to whisper into the man’s ear. A proposition, maybe to go somewhere where it was less crowded—

Hands grabbed the human and ripped him off Yeosang.

The man whirled, ready to yell, but a body stepped between him and Yeosang, protective.

“Get lost,” said Wooyoung. 

“Mind your own fucking business,” growled the human. His voice was nearly lost in the music. “He didn’t seem to mind. Is he your bitch or something?”

Yeosang saw the way Wooyoung’s shoulders tensed, and immediately grabbed him, hand gripping his waist. Don’t. 

“Get lost,” repeated Wooyoung, and something must’ve shown in his face because the man’s eyes went wide and he immediately backed away, hands up in the sign of surrender.

Once the man was out of sight, Wooyoung turned to face Yeosang. Yeosang grabbed him by the collar.

“What the fuck was that?” he hissed. “He would’ve left the place with me.”

“He was all over you,” said Wooyoung, like that explained everything.

“That was the point,” said Yeosang. “I could’ve taken him all the way out to the alley, he would’ve gone with me.”

“But he was all over you, Yeosangie.”

“We need to feed,” said Yeosang.

Wooyoung shook his head. “It’s not worth it.”

Yeosang faltered. “I can’t let you—we can’t starve,” he said. He let go of Wooyoung’s collar.

“We won’t,” said Wooyoung, grabbing Yeosang’s hands. “From now on I’ll lure the sleazeballs, okay? You let them paw you too much. It’ll be better if I handle it.” He beamed, shining like a beacon of pure light, completely at odds with his club makeup and clothing.

“I don’t see how that’s any different,” said Yeosang, smiling despite himself.

Wooyoung grinned. “That way they don’t get to touch you.” 

“It doesn’t matter,” said Yeosang.

“It does to me,” said Wooyoung, and he put his arm around Yeosang, holding him close. Yeosang relaxed in his embrace. “Come on, let’s try another place.”

Yeosang nodded, and he and Wooyoung left the club.

 

“Where you going?”

Yeosang turned at Jongho’s words. The younger vampire was standing by the kitchen door, looking out of place.

“Out,” said Yeosang.

“To feed?” asked Jongho. “I’m going soon.”

“No, just out,” said Yeosang. He wanted to go, he could see Jongho didn’t want a conversation, but he had to ask. “How are you?”

“Fine,” said Jongho.

The answer was too quick, too casual. Yeosang waited for more.

“Seonghwa-hyung didn’t come home again last night,” said Jongho.

There it was. “He’s with that human of his,” said Yeosang. “They’re right in that disgusting honeymoon period, he’ll probably be sleeping over at the apartment all the time.”

“I don’t think so,” said Jongho.

“Oh, I assure you,” said Yeosang, putting on a smile. “It’s not like he’s moving out.”

“I don’t think this is some kind of honeymoon period,” said Jongho quietly. “I think this one’s… different.”

Yeosang was ready to deny it, tell Jongho that Hongjoong was no different from the other humans except that he had been more of a challenge to obtain, but stopped. He was well aware of Jongho’s past and how it had changed how he saw things, how he saw the coven and his place in it. So he stopped, thought his words through for a moment, and then said, “Maybe. But he is still part of this coven first, just as you are.”

Jongho nodded. It was difficult to know if Yeosang’s words had had the right effect on him. He guarded his emotions like they were all he had.

Yeosang was ready to leave, thinking the conversation over, when Jongho suddenly asked, “Did you talk to him?”

“Who?” asked Yeosang, turning back. “Seonghwa? Or Hongjoong?”

“Wooyoung,” said Jongho.

Yeosang tensed.

“I know you’re avoiding him,” continued Jongho. “He knows it too. You should talk to him.”

“I’ll talk to him when there’s something to talk about,” said Yeosang stiffly.

“It’s obvious there is something to talk about,” said Jongho, voice quiet.

“There isn’t,” hissed Yeosang. He glanced at the staircase, which Wooyoung could come down any second. “You don’t need to worry about him.”

Why would anyone? Wooyoung had San, after all. Did he need anyone else? Did he need Yeosang, did Wooyoung need him in the way Yeosang needed him, in that desperate way he could fill with nothing and no one else? That way he could still feel eating away inside him, until all he had was hollowness between his ribs, and it felt as though the smallest touch would send it collapsing.

No, Wooyoung was fine. Wooyoung was happy. There was no need to worry about him.

“I’m worried about you,” said Jongho, so calm, so quiet.

“I’m fine,” said Yeosang, a bald-faced lie he had no problem repeating as many times as he needed to. “I have to go now. Will you leave with me?”

For a moment Jongho only looked at Yeosang. And then he said, “You know he loves you more.”

The words were like a knife in Yeosang’s chest. He said nothing, only turned on his heel and walked out of the room. Jongho did not say anything after him.

It was cold outside. Yeosang could see it in the way the humans gathered closer together, sharing precious body heat. He had dressed appropriately, in a heavy coat and a scarf which he now pulled up to cover his mouth and nose. Aimlessly he wandered, letting his feet take him wherever they wanted, so long as he left the house behind. A bitterness he could nearly taste in his mouth filled him. There was nowhere Yeosang could be safe, not even his own home. Everything had been taken over.

By him. San. If not by the human himself then by his scent, or the very thought of him. Yeosang looked around the living room and imagined him sitting there, or smelled the faint traces of his scent lingering. Jongho poked him about Wooyoung, and San. Seonghwa lit up when San came over. Even Mingi, so in love with the boy San lived with.

It was like San had entrenched himself into the coven. And that was fine. It was fine if the others adored him, if they doted on him and wished him around and showered him with love. Yeosang didn’t care. He didn’t even hate San, not when he knew how genuine San was in his efforts at friendship.

But every time Wooyoung entered the room, the scent of San’s blood heavy in the air around him, Yeosang felt a little hollower on the inside.

He could leave, he knew. Minhyuk, one of the older vampires who frequented the club, had mentioned a new place that Hakyeon and his coven were starting where humans would pay vampires to be fed from, and they were looking for employees. “Only pretty ones,” Minhyuk had told Yeosang with a predatory grin. “I’m thinking of joining. You could too.”

He could. He could move out of the house, put some distance between he and Wooyoung. It was a good chance and Yeosang found himself thinking of it more and more every time Wooyoung left for a date, which was often. But he knew he couldn’t let go of Wooyoung, not even for a moment, and Yeosang’s thoughts of leaving remained only thoughts. 

He found himself in the large park near the house, and walked the paths until he found an empty bench. He came here often, he realized, for no real reason at all. It was the place he’d first been introduced to San as Wooyoung’s boyfriend. At the time he had had no idea what it would turn into.

It was supposed to be nothing more than a fling. Casual, like all Wooyoung’s relationships were, easily taken up and easily forgotten.

But San was different. San was special.

Wooyoung was in love with him.

He loves you more, Jongho had said. But what use was that, when he wouldn’t love Yeosang the same way?

He could wait, he knew. He could wait until San grew old, or died. Yeosang and Wooyoung had forever, San was only human. Wooyoung would eventually move on, and he and Yeosang would go back to how they had been before San had arrived and made himself a part of their lives. But could Yeosang be happy with that, knowing what he now knew?

He was in love with Wooyoung, and Wooyoung didn’t feel the same.

Yeosang leaned back on the bench and closed his eyes, losing himself in memories.

 

“What are you looking at?”

“Your face,” said Wooyoung.

Yeosang blinked, stunned. They had only known each other a few months, the majority of the time with Wooyoung in his newborn haze, and he was already so bold.

“Stop it,” said Yeosang.

“Make me,” said Wooyoung.

Yeosang raised his book, fighting the urge to grind his teeth. He didn’t like the new vampire. He saw no reason for his existence; after all, Jisung had Yeosang and thousands of boys died on the street all the time, why did Wooyoung have to be turned? He was just past the newborn phase and he had been a colossal pain throughout it, ceaselessly craving blood, manic and trying to escape their little apartment any time he could. Now that he could talk, he talked all the fucking time, and Yeosang was sick of his voice. He was sick of him in general.

“Hey.”

It took all of Yeosang’s willpower to bite back his words. He ignored Wooyoung.

“Hey. Hey. Yeosang, hey. I’m talking to you. You can’t ignore me!”

Yeosang continued glaring at the page, pretending he was looking at the words in front of him, when the book was suddenly snatched from his hands.

He lunged for Wooyoung at once. Wooyoung threw himself back on the sofa, keeping the book just out of Yeosang’s reach, no matter how hard Yeosang struggled.

“Give it back,” he growled. “Now. I am not joking.”

“If you want it so much, take it,” said Wooyoung. He cackled. “Not so scary now, are you?”

Yeosang made another violent grab for it, and then sat back and huffed. “Wooyoung.”

He didn’t expect anything from his exasperation, and definitely not for Wooyoung to immediately hand the book over. Yeosang took it, equal parts wary and disbelieving.

“I just wanted you to talk to me,” said Wooyoung, seeing the look on Yeosang’s face.

“That’s… all?” Yeosang could hardly believe what he was hearing.

Wooyoung nodded. “That’s all.”

Yeosang gave him one last glance, and went back to reading. They didn’t have much money but Jisung loved reading, so they always had books. The one in Yeosang’s hands was about flower language, everything from daffodils to the impossible true blue rose, and he’d picked it up because he’d thought it interesting. But now he couldn’t concentrate. His mind kept going back to the boy still sitting next to him, now quiet and unassuming, leaning back and staring at the ceiling. It was a few unbearable minutes of this before Yeosang finally gave in. He put his book down and said, “Why?”

“Why what?” Wooyoung looked surprised.

“Why did you want me to talk to you so much?” asked Yeosang.

“Why don’t you ever wanna talk to me?”  Wooyoung asked back.

“We have nothing in common,” said Yeosang.

“We have literally so much in common,” said Wooyoung, throwing himself dramatically over the back of the couch. “And come on, does it even matter? All we have is each other.”

“That’s not true,” said Yeosang. “We have Jisung-hyung, and I’m sure you have many friends.”

“Not really,” muttered Wooyoung. “I stopped talking to the people I used to know when I turned. I don’t think they even noticed.”

Yeosang blinked, surprised. That wasn’t what he’d expected from the new vampire. It took him a moment, but he rallied. “You’ll make more friends,” he said.

“I don’t wanna be just friends with anyone,” said Wooyoung, pouting. “I wanna be friends with you.”

There was something so genuine, so sincere in Wooyoung’s face that Yeosang faltered. And then he turned away from him and pretended to read his book again.

He got ten seconds of blessed peace before Wooyoung threw himself on him. Yeosang sighed exasperatedly and was ready to throw Wooyoung off again when he stopped. The other vampire wasn’t too uncomfortable, actually. Yeosang shifted, getting more comfortable, and rested his arm and book on Wooyoung’s back. He paused, waiting to see if Wooyoung would move away. He didn’t. So Yeosang relaxed and got back to his reading.

Later that night, when Wooyoung badgered him for a description of what he’d read, Yeosang sat beside him and told him everything.

 

A few hours later Yeosang made his way home. It was only an hour or so after midnight, so Wooyoung would likely be out with San. Yeosang smiled to himself as he pondered letting them know Hongjoong would be spending more nights out, so they could spend even longer on their dates without him knowing. Then at least Yeosang could spend more time at home with Mingi, or go see Yunho unbothered.

He went in through the back gate like he always did, not wanting to be in view of Wooyoung’s bedroom window. He was surprised to find Mingi outside, sitting on the lawn, tapping at his phone.

“What are you doing out here?” asked Yeosang. Mingi had nothing with him but his phone, so it couldn’t be some ill-conceived night time picnic.

“Oh, just chilling,” said Mingi with a shrug. “Talking to Yunho. I’ll tell him you said hi.”

“Do that,” said Yeosang. He paused. “Why are you sitting outside? The WiFi is better inside, you know.”

“Yeah, but San’s there,” said Mingi, still busy on his phone.

“San’s…” Yeosang glanced at the house. “San’s where?”

“In me and Wooyoung’s room,” said Mingi.

“And you’re… sitting out here…” said Yeosang slowly. “Outside your own house. Because of him.”

“Yeah,” said Mingi. Something must’ve shown on Yeosang’s face because he quickly added, “It’s okay, Wooyoung just asked if I could go downstairs, I’m the one who came and sat outside, I—Yeosang!”

Yeosang had already started towards the house. Mingi followed, and Yeosang could feel him tugging on his sleeve, he could hear him trying to justify it or excuse Wooyoung. He ignored it.

He was angry. He was angrier than he had been in so long, so angry he could feel it sharp and twisting in his gut, hot like fire. This was not San’s house, this would never be San’s house, and Wooyoung had no right to force Mingi out to accommodate him. The others might let him do whatever he wanted but Yeosang wouldn’t. This wasn’t right. This wasn’t fair.

Yeosang was a few steps away from the back door when he felt Mingi let go of him and step back. When he threw open the kitchen door he realized why.

He could smell blood.

It was light, but it was in the air, tickling Yeosang’s nose. Even so faint the scent was sweet.

San.

Yeosang strode across the kitchen, through the living room to the stairs. The smell of blood got stronger with every step. By the time he reached the upstairs landing it was so strong he could imagine it sinking into his skin from the air. Blood had been spilled.

Another tongue of white-hot anger surged in Yeosang’s gut. Not only had Wooyoung fed from San, he had done so messily enough that he’d spilled blood. He’d made Mingi too uncomfortable to even sit in the living room.

He stormed up to the bedroom door and threw it open.

The smell of San’s blood hung heavy in the air, so thick Yeosang could imagine reaching out and touching it, and it took all his self-control to keep his fangs in check. Wooyoung was there, sitting on his bed, shirt askew but still on. San was there too, but Yeosang barely registered him.

“How fucking dare you?” he hissed, eyes trained on Wooyoung.

“Yeosangie?” Wooyoung climbed out of the bed. “What’s wrong?”

Yeosang wanted to laugh in derision. Of course Wooyoung didn’t know what was wrong. He didn’t know anything anymore, not since San.

He looked at the human, and watched with a sick pleasure as he flinched. “Why is he here?” he asked acidly, turning back to Wooyoung.

“He came over like an hour ago to hang out,” said Wooyoung. “Hongjoong is out of the house a lot so he has more time to be with me.”

Just as Yeosang had predicted. Seonghwa was busy, so Hongjoong was busy. And Yeosang had even considered letting them know so they could spend even more time together, thinking it would allow him peace. How stupid was he?

“What is he doing here?” asked Yeosang, struggling to keep his calm. It felt like a string stretched right to breaking point.

“Do you want a play-by-play or…?” Wooyoung grinned.

That was the wrong thing to say. Wooyoung realized his mistake too late, and quickly started towards the doorway where Yeosang stood.

“Sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry, don’t be mad. What did I do wrong? Why are you so mad at me?”

Yeosang said nothing to that. Instead he glanced at San one more time before he said, “He needs to go.”

Wooyoung immediately switched gears. “What? Why?”

“He’s been here long enough,” said Yeosang. “Take him and get the fuck out.”

“Get out? This is my house and my room,” said Wooyoung, and Yeosang could see the anger rising on his face. “What the hell are you doing barging in here anyway? I was busy.”

“I don’t fucking care,” snapped Yeosang. “I—”

“No you don’t!” yelled Wooyoung. “You don’t fucking care about me, you don’t fucking care—”

“This isn’t about you and me,” said Yeosang, voice low. “This is about you driving Mingi out of his own house because you brought your piece home—”

Wooyoung stepped right up to Yeosang, noses almost touching. “Do not call him that.”

His eyes were hard, two chips of obsidian fixed on Yeosang. Yeosang had seen Wooyoung look like that before, when handsy humans came too close, when someone whispered about Seonghwa’s maker’s death, when they talked about Jongho’s maker. He’d never turned that look on Yeosang.

Until now. Until San.

“I’m sorry,” said Yeosang, voice dripping vicious sarcasm. “I’m sorry for insulting your precious human, the love of your fucking life, the only person worth caring about to you. I’m so sorry, Wooyoung. I hope you can forgive me. I hope you won’t hate me forever for daring to call him that.”

Wooyoung was right in Yeosang’s face, so close Yeosang saw every expression flit across his face, no matter how brief. And they went quick, from anger to disbelief before settling on pain. “What the hell is wrong with you?” he cried, stepping back.

He looked so hurt Yeosang felt his resolve falter, but it was too late. Things had gone too far and he couldn’t take them back. He swallowed and said, “Mingi is outside.”

“What? No, he’s downstairs,” said Wooyoung. He looked thrown by the sudden change of track. “He’s—I asked him if he could go downstairs for a while.”

“He couldn’t be downstairs,” said Yeosang. He glanced at San, and then back to Wooyoung. “You can smell San’s blood through the entire house.”

“It…” Wooyoung looked like he’d had the floor rug out from underneath his feet. “It shouldn’t be that bad, we only spilled a bit…”

“It’s bad for him,” said Yeosang. He took a deep breath, trying to force the anger down. “Did you feed in here?”

Wooyoung nodded.

Yeosang pulled his lower lip between his teeth. “You know this is his room too. How long do you think until he’ll be comfortable in here again?”

“He…” Wooyoung chewed his lower lip. “I didn’t know it would be that bad for him…”

“Mingi had to leave the house?”

Yeosang turned to San. It was the first time he’d heard the human speak that night.

“I didn’t know he’d have to,” said Wooyoung, going back to the bed as San got up on his knees. “Honest, I thought he could just sit in the living room and it’d be okay.”

“I know,” said San quietly, taking Wooyoung’s face in his hands. Yeosang took another deep breath. “But Yeosang-ssi’s right, we can’t just kick him out of his room, especially if he won’t be okay being here afterward.”

“He kicks me out of our room all the time,” whined Wooyoung. “I didn’t know it would be such a big deal if I asked him to leave for some time. I’ve never asked him before.”

“It’s not just the room, Woo, he had to leave the entire house,” said San. He turned to Yeosang, catching him off-guard. “Where is he?”

“In the backyard,” said Yeosang.

“We made him go sit in the backyard,” said San to Wooyoung, frowning.

“Not on purpose,” said Wooyoung.

He was so gentle speaking to San, a stark contrast to what he’d been like just minutes ago, with Yeosang. Yeosang knew he shouldn’t be surprised, but it still hurt. San was special, he was different. Wooyoung was in love with him.

“I think I should go,” said San.

“What? No, don’t,” said Wooyoung, grabbing his arm. “It’s okay, you don’t need to—”

“I agree with San-ssi,” said Yeosang.

Wooyoung whipped his head around to look at him. Yeosang didn’t look at his face.

“I’m really sorry,” said San. “I had no idea.”

“It’s not your fault,” said Yeosang, and he could see from the corner of his eye Wooyoung’s mouth already open to protest San’s words. Wooyoung snapped his mouth shut. “Thank you for understanding.”

San nodded. He glanced at Wooyoung, and Yeosang did too. Wooyoung was looking at him intensely with an expression he could not read.

It didn’t matter. Yeosang knew he was not wanted. “We’ll be outside, in the back,” said Yeosang. “Please be sure to use the front door. Mingi would be devastated if he ended up hurting you.”

He stayed just long enough to hear San’s last “Okay,” and then Yeosang left the room, closing the door behind him.

He was trembling as he went down the stairs, and had to wrap his arms around himself for comfort, take a moment to lean against the railing and steady himself. It had been years since he’d been so angry, and never with Wooyoung. They had argued before, but it had always been petty. To fight like this rattled Yeosang to the core.

And he couldn’t reach out and feel for Wooyoung. He couldn’t feel for the bond and understand what Wooyoung was feeling, he didn’t know how to tread to make things better. In truth, he didn’t know if he cared to make things better. 

Yeosang did love Wooyoung, and he didn’t want to hurt him and make him unhappy. But he was so tired. 

Maybe he should just leave. 

Mingi was on a video call when Yeosang went to him, and immediately tilted the phone so he’d be on-screen. Yeosang smiled and waved at Yunho. 

“Yeosang, nice scarf,” said Yunho, smiling back. “Can you get Mingi to wear one too?”

“I told you, I don’t feel cold,” said Mingi. 

“Looking at you is making me feel cold!”

“Here,” said Yeosang, taking his scarf off and wrapping it around Mingi. “Better?”

“No, now you’re freezing,” said Yunho.

Yeosang huffed, unwrapped the scarf from Mingi, and then wrapped it loose so that it covered both his and Mingi’s necks, effectively tying them together. “Happy?”

Yunho laughed. “Yes.”

Yeosang grinned, rolled his eyes, and then laughed too. It was so easy to be friends with Yunho. He was warm and genuine and friendly. More than that, he truly cared for and liked Mingi, even with Mingi’s vampire issues, and that made him a good person in Yeosang’s book.

He glanced at Mingi, who had a big smile on his face as he and Yunho talked about some show or game they both liked. Yunho was special to Mingi too. 

“Yunho,” said Yeosang quietly, “how are things with your Hongjoong-hyung?”

Yunho looked a little surprised at the sudden question, but easily got over it. “Kind of weird,” he said. “Every time I look at him it’s kind of awkward? Plus he keeps spending entire nights out and because of San, that asshole, I keep thinking about what he’s doing and… uh…” He looked away, ears bright red. 

“So his boyfriend’s definitely a vampire,” said Mingi.

“Definitely,” said Yunho. He paused. “Actually, I was thinking, since Hongjoong-hyung is definitely dating a vampire too, he has no right to say anything so…”

“He’ll still kill me,” said Mingi. “And worse now, because he’ll know I’m not normal.”

“You are normal,” insisted Yunho. “You just have some issues.”

“Having issues like that is what makes me not normal!”

“We don’t have to tell him if you don’t want to,” said Yunho. “I’m just saying we could.”

Mingi didn’t say anything to that, only nodded.

Yeosang gathered this was a conversation they’d had more than once, and it was not his place to comment. It was a strange sort of irony though that Mingi was so unwilling to reveal their relationship when Hongjoong was dating Seonghwa of all people. Yunho was right, Hongjoong had no right to say anything.

“Have you asked him about it?” asked Yeosang. He caught Yunho’s confused look and added, “Hongjoong. About his boyfriend.”

“No, it’s awkward and I don’t wanna make it worse,” said Yunho. “And I kinda don’t wanna bring it up without bringing up Ming so…”

Yeosang nodded. Yunho had been put in a weird position, and he was uncomfortable. Yeosang would’ve just spilled and told him, at least, the truth, but he had already promised Seonghwa and he was bound to it.

They sat and talked for some time, Yeosang mostly listening to the conversation, when the back door opened. Wooyoung stepped out, looking down.

“Hey,” he said. “San left, so… you guys can come in now.”

“Open all the windows and let air in,” said Yeosang. “We’ll come in a few minutes.”

Wooyoung nodded. He looked so drained, none of that bright energy Yeosang was so used to feeling around him. He hesitated at the doorway and said, “What’re you guys doing?”

“Talking to Yunho,” said Mingi. “Wanna say hi?”

“Maybe later,” said Wooyoung. “I—” He shifted again, one hand on the doorway, the other rubbing at his neck. “Yeosangie, can I talk to you?”

Yeosang didn’t want to. He could guess what Wooyoung wanted to say and he didn’t want to hear it. But he still got up from the grass and followed Wooyoung inside and to the living room. 

Once inside and away from Mingi, Wooyoung turned around. “I’m sorry,” he said.

“You don’t need to apologize to me,” said Yeosang. 

“You make me feel like I do,” said Wooyoung. 

Yeosang bit his lip. “Wooyoung—”

“Whatever I did, I’m sorry, okay?” said Wooyoung, voice cracking. “I’m sorry I messed up, I’m sorry I made you mad at me and I’m sorry I’m too dumb to even know what I did wrong—”

“No,” said Yeosang, but Wooyoung didn’t even hear him.

“Just tell me so I can make it better,” he said, face twisting as he struggled not to cry. “Okay? I’m sorry, I don’t know what I did to make you hate me but I’m so sorry and I promise I won’t do it again—”

Yeosang grabbed Wooyoung and pulled him into a tight hug. At once Wooyoung’s arms went around his middle, and he clutched him close, trembling. Yeosang tightened his embrace. 

“I’m really sorry,” said Wooyoung, voice small where his face was pressed into Yeosang’s neck. “Please don’t hate me anymore.”

“I don’t hate you,” said Yeosang. Pain seized his chest and all he could do to soothe it was hold Wooyoung even closer. “I could never hate you, never. I’m so sorry for making you think that.”

“Then why won’t you be with me?”

And Yeosang wished he could cry. That was what he wanted, more than anything. It was Wooyoung who didn’t want to be with him. 

“I’m sorry,” he said softly. “I… I’ve been going through some things. Things I can’t tell you about.”

“You can always tell me anything,” said Wooyoung.

“This time I can’t,” said Yeosang. “I’m sorry.”

There was a moment of silence, and then Wooyoung asked, “Is that why you closed our bond?”

Yeosang took a deep breath, feeling Wooyoung clutch the back of his jacket as he did so. He nodded. 

Another long moment passed, Wooyoung with his face still buried in the crook of Yeosang’s neck, Yeosang holding him like he needed him to live. And he did. Yeosang needed him.

“I thought I did something,” said Wooyoung, after what felt like an age. “I thought you were angry at me or…”

“I’m sorry, it’s my fault,” said Yeosang. And he knew it was. By distancing himself from Wooyoung he had hurt him, and that was the last thing he’d wanted. 

Wooyoung pulled away, hands dropping to Yeosang’s waist. “You can’t tell me what’s bothering you?” he asked. “Maybe I could help.”

“No, I’m sorry,” said Yeosang. 

“But you’re not mad at me,” said Wooyoung.

“No,” said Yeosang, putting up a small smile. “And I could never hate you. I’m just… just stressed.”

“I wanna help,” said Wooyoung. “Even if you can’t tell me. I could—I could cheer you up, or distract you, make you feel better. I’ll even sit next to you and shut up if you want. Anything.” Hurt touched his gaze again. “Just don’t push me away.”

“I won’t,” said Yeosang. He couldn’t hurt Wooyoung again. 

He looked at Wooyoung, at his sincere, glimmering dark eyes, and without thinking raised a hand to his face.

Yeosang ran his thumb over Wooyoung’s cheek, cupping it gently. It was dry, which was a huge relief. At least Yeosang hadn’t made him cry. At least.

“I love you,” said Yeosang. 

Wooyoung’s eyes widened in surprise. Yeosang didn’t often make declarations of love, not unless things were serious. He couldn’t remember once telling Wooyoung he loved him after Mingi joined the coven. It was understood, after all, and saying it aloud felt unnecessary. But Yeosang needed to say it now. If not for Wooyoung, then for himself. 

“I love you too,” said Wooyoung. 

Yeosang swallowed down the words. He would always have them, no matter what. Even if Wooyoung didn’t mean it the same way Yeosang did, at least Yeosang could hear them. 

He leaned forward and kissed Wooyoung’s cheek.

At once he felt Wooyoung tense in his arms. Yeosang knew it was stupid, he knew he shouldn’t, but he couldn’t stop himself. He wanted nothing more than to kiss Wooyoung right then. This much should be enough. This much should be allowed.

Yeosang pulled away, still in Wooyoung’s arms, just enough to gauge Wooyoung’s reaction. Wooyoung often kissed him and the others on the cheek, but Yeosang never initiated something like this. He looked shocked, frozen still, only blinking at him.

You’re special, Yeosang wanted to tell him. I love the others, but I’m in love with you.

Wooyoung stared at him, and then his eyes flicked down to Yeosang’s lips. 

It was a small movement, but Yeosang didn’t miss it. Instinctively he parted his lips, and then let his tongue slide out to pull the lower one between his teeth.

Wooyoung let go of Yeosang like he’d been burned. He backed away hurriedly, putting space between them. His eyes were wide, and he looked more than shocked, he looked confused, like he’d been thrown into a storm.

“Woo?” said Yeosang softly, reaching for him.

“Sorry,” said Wooyoung, sidestepping towards the stairs. “Um, sorry, I, you know…” He laughed, but it was high and sounded forced. “I’m going upstairs.”

He fled. Yeosang watched him run upstairs, filled with something he couldn’t describe. He hadn’t missed the way Wooyoung had gone tense when he’d pressed his lips to his cheek, and it hadn’t felt entirely like surprise. And when he’d looked down to Yeosang’s mouth, almost like he was expecting more…

He loves you more, Jongho had said. And Yeosang had dismissed it, thinking it impossible for Wooyoung to return his feelings in the same way. But if Yeosang had changed, if he had realized what he really felt, then was it so wrong to think Wooyoung could do the same?

Suddenly everything didn’t feel so out of reach anymore. 

Chapter Text

The woman that walked into the café was a vampire. San could tell. 

At first glance she looked human. Delicate features, long black hair that hung past her waist, beautiful golden brown skin. But as she approached their table her eyes flicked to San, and he saw the look in them, the want, the way she assessed him. It was just a second before she hid it, and then she was looking at the girl manning the counter, but San had seen it so many times he didn’t miss it. She was a vampire.

“What’s wrong?” 

San turned, pulling his gaze away from the woman. “Nothing,” he said with a smile.

Wooyoung frowned. “Are you sure?”

“Totally,” said San. He motioned to the woman, who was now buying a few pastries. “Do you know her?”

“No,” said Wooyoung. “She is a vampire, though.”

“Yeah, I could tell,” said San. 

“How? Did she give you a look?” demanded Wooyoung. He was already getting up. “Was she making eyes at you? Did she—?”

“She did not give me a look,” said San, laughing as he pulled Wooyoung back down. “Don’t be dumb. Are you gonna fight her right in this café because I made eye contact with her?”

“If she gave you a hungry look of course I will,” said Wooyoung indignantly. San laughed even more, which just made Wooyoung even more upset. “I mean it! I will literally fight her in public if I have to!”

“You don’t have to,” said San. He kissed the corner of Wooyoung’s mouth. “But thank you for the offer anyway.”

Wooyoung calmed down, all his indignant anger washed away with one tiny kiss, and San had to giggle at that. He leaned in and kissed Wooyoung again, properly this time, long and sweet.

San had never had a boyfriend like him before. Someone who made him happy, and alive, almost like he had too much life inside him and he would burst from it. Someone he felt so in sync with, and who cared just as much as San cared about him, who he could poke at and giggle with and at the same time open up to and know he wasn’t being annoying, or a burden, or too much. 

And the best part of it was he knew Wooyoung felt the same. He knew Wooyoung loved him just as much, trusted him just as much. When he smiled at San and kissed him like this it was genuine. Wooyoung never did anything half and San loved it. He loved how Wooyoung lived life with so much passion and heart and love, and how he truly wanted to share all of it with San. 

It was like they were made for each other. San didn’t think he could be happier.

“You should come over Christmas night,” said Wooyoung, pulling San in close, slotting against his side. “We can watch all those dumb old movies together, and we’ll get good stuff for you to eat too, all those cakes and sweets and everything.”

“You know I can’t,” said San. “I’ll spend it at home with Hongjoong-hyung and Yunho, and I’ll do New Year’s with you.”

“We can do both,” said Wooyoung. “Come on, I wanna do all that dumb Christmas stuff with you. We’ll even bake cookies and everything, Seonghwa-hyung’s been crazy for cooking nowadays.”

“If I come over then Mingi can’t come downstairs,” said San gently. “We can’t make him sit in his room on Christmas.” He loved Wooyoung but he could be so thoughtless sometimes. It wasn’t that Wooyoung didn’t care for Mingi, he just genuinely forgot about all the concessions he had to make every time San went over. 

Wooyoung frowned. “Right,” he said finally. “Then we can go out.”

“Yeah?” San smiled up at him. “See all the trees set up outside? You’ll buy me warm cookies and hot chocolate and hold my hand while we walk down the streets?”

“All that, yeah,” said Wooyoung, and he leaned down to kiss him on the lips. 

“I didn’t know you were into all that cheesy stuff,” said San, grinning. 

“I wasn’t,” said Wooyoung with a shrug. He side-eyed San. “Are you calling me cheesy?”

“You said you wanted to do all that corny stuff with me,” said San. “How is that not cheesy?”

“You’re the one who wanted to do them first,” said Wooyoung indignantly, sitting up. He still didn’t let go of San. “If I’m cheesy what are you?” 

“I never said I wasn’t,” said San. He made a face at Wooyoung and Wooyoung pouted even more. San laughed. 

Their order arrived: two strawberry tarts small enough for San to finish both, one hot drink. It was easier than ordering only one and having the waiter try and convince them to get another. San started eating his, while Wooyoung poked the other with a fork.

“You know, if you were a vampire, you could just move in and stay with me all the time,” said Wooyoung. “We have a spare room. We could share that, or I’ll kick Mingi out to share with Jongho.”

“If you were human you could move in with me,” said San, smiling around a mouthful of strawberry and pastry.

“In that tiny-ass apartment? No way,” said Wooyoung. “Also I’m pretty sure your Hongjoong-hyung would bury me alive before he let me move in.”

“If you paid rent I’m sure he’d have no problem,” said San. “You’d have to get a job first then. You unemployed loser.”

“I am not unemployed,” said Wooyoung, affronted. 

“You are totally unemployed!” 

“Being Seonghwa-hyung’s coven member is a full-time job!”

San laughed again. Wooyoung liked talking about made-up impossible situations like this. They’d already worked out what kind of job he would get (retail probably, like Yunho, though he didn’t like the idea of having to wait around an empty store most of the time) and what he would study in university (nothing science-related, maybe something to do with languages). 

“You know, hyung is like two hundred years old,” said Wooyoung. “Sometimes I forget that.”

“That is super old,” said San. He paused, thinking it over. “For us, I guess. It’s not that old for you.”

“It’s super old for me too,” said Wooyoung, looking offended. 

“Oh, yeah, I forgot,” said San, grinning wide. “You’re only, like, eighty. Much younger.”

“A lot younger,” said Wooyoung seriously. “That’s less than half Seonghwa-hyung’s age.”

“I should start calling you gramps,” said San. He laughed as Wooyoung gave him a light shove only to bring him right back against his side. “Grandpa. Granddad. Grandaddy.”

“Oh, yuck!” screeched Wooyoung, making a face. “Gross, gross, gross.”

“Grandaddy,” purred San, more encouraged than ever. This was so much fun. “Gran—”

Wooyoung shoved the tart in San’s mouth, shutting him up. 

“You’re the worst,” said San, whacking at Wooyoung’s arm as he tried not to choke on shortbread crust. “I could’ve died! You could’ve choked me with a fucking strawberry tart of all things!”

“We’ll put that on your headstone,” said Wooyoung. “Murdered for being super annoying.”

“Is that what they put on yours?” asked San. He swallowed the last mouthful of pastry.

“No, they specifically said I was spirited away because I was too cute to live,” said Wooyoung, making a cute face, and San threw his head back and laughed. 

They talked, about pointless things that became so much more fun when Wooyoung was around, and San finished his drink and food. Right as Wooyoung paid the bill his phone started ringing. 

“It’s Yeosang,” he said, with a smile at the screen before he picked up. “Yeosangie, hi.” 

San settled back as Wooyoung talked on the phone. He didn’t mind being interrupted too much, it wasn’t like they’d been super busy before the call. But he was bothered by something, and he couldn’t really pinpoint what it was.

Yeosang called Wooyoung a lot more now. Ever since that horrible night San had gone over to their house and made Mingi wait outside, Yeosang called Wooyoung often during their dates, or interrupted him when he and San talked on the phone. And San was glad, he was happy Wooyoung and Yeosang had made up, gotten over whatever it was that had made Wooyoung so sad and act like he was scared of losing his entire happiness. He was glad Wooyoung was happy and full of life, that he and Yeosang were talking again. But something tickled the back of San’s mind in a way he really didn’t like. 

It was the timing. Why now? Why did Yeosang call now, when he knew Wooyoung was with San? Why did he want to talk to Wooyoung when he was on the phone with San, why did he need to show Wooyoung something right then?

San didn’t think he was a jealous person. He’d definitely never been possessive with his exes, or even with Wooyoung, not when gazes lingered on him when they walked down the street, when they went out to clubs and he swallowed everyone’s attention with his dancing. It didn’t bother San if other people were attracted to Wooyoung. After all, Wooyoung wasn’t attracted to them back.

But Yeosang. Yeosang was something different. Yeosang was the person Wooyoung used to be aware of all the time, that would make him sometimes sit up and say he could feel him doing something fun and his excitement. He’d point to cartoon characters in store displays and mention Yeosang liked that character, or perk up when his ears caught some idol song Yeosang liked singing along to. When they passed street vendors and Wooyoung bought San something cute, half the time he’d get one for Yeosang too, because Yeosang loved things like that. 

“He’s breathtaking,” Wooyoung had said the first time he’d described Yeosang to San, and San had never heard him use a word like that again. 

San was not a jealous person. But learning that Wooyoung did not, in fact, see Yeosang as a brother bothered him deep, deep inside.

And now this. The calls, the interruptions. San didn’t like it, but he didn’t say anything because he knew how happy Wooyoung was to patch up with his—his what? What was San supposed to call him? He wasn’t Wooyoung’s brother, and didn’t feel like just his friend either. 

He waited until Yeosang was done with whatever excuse he had to call and Wooyoung put away his phone. “Come on, let’s go,” said San, getting up. He pulled at Wooyoung’s hand. “I wanna walk around a bit.”

Wooyoung let himself get pulled along, smiling. There was a park across the street from the café, a little one with swingsets and a playground for kids, empty so late in the night. They talked as they went, San mostly complaining about stuff he’d had to deal with at work. 

“It gets so busy around this time of year,” he said. Christmas was less than a week away. “And no one wants to listen when we say we literally don’t have any more cake or muffins or whatever to give them.”

“They think you got a stash back there,” said Wooyoung, smiling. “You’re hoarding them like a pastry dragon or—”

He stopped suddenly, raising his head and turning to the side. San tensed, until he realized it wasn’t tension pulling Wooyoung’s shoulders, it was anticipation. 

And sure enough Wooyoung turned to San, broad grin on his face. “Yeosang’s here.”

San kept his face perfectly straight. 

Wooyoung didn’t even notice. He grabbed hold of San’s hand tight and pulled him along in a random direction, until they reached a few small ramps and slopes built into the ground. And there, just like Wooyoung had said, was Yeosang.

He looked pretty. He had all his white blond hair tied back in a little ponytail which he pulled free as San and Wooyoung approached, and a purple skateboard was by his feet. 

“Yeosang!” said Wooyoung, almost running towards him and pulling San along all the while. 

“Woo, hey,” said Yeosang in his deep gentle voice. He made eye-contact with San and bowed his head politely, and San did the same, but with a bright smile to go with it.

It was hard to read Yeosang because he always tried to look cool and detached, but San knew he was awkward with him. A different kind of awkwardness from what you had with complete strangers, or when you messed up or said the wrong thing in front of a crowd. Like Yeosang hadn’t expected San to be there, right there in Wooyoung’s life where Yeosang would have to see him and know he existed. Not anger or hatred, just… awkwardness. 

“I didn’t know you were so close,” said Yeosang. “I wouldn’t have called if I’d known.”

No, you would’ve just shown up, and the thought was so nasty San was surprised at himself. He immediately shoved it out of his brain. 

“Do you come here often?” he asked, trying to distract himself from any more mean thoughts. 

“Occasionally,” said Yeosang. “Sometimes there are too many people at the parks I usually go, so I end up coming here. It’s not the best place to skateboard but it’s always empty.”

He was so formal, and San was so formal. It was awkward

San had really wanted to be friends with Yeosang, not only for Wooyoung’s sake, but because Yeosang seemed like a genuinely caring guy, even if he was a little shy. But he was starting to get the feeling he and Yeosang would never be friends. 

Wooyoung and Yeosang talked, about the house, the other vampires and mutual friends, other things that were totally pointless. San couldn’t help but notice how different Yeosang was when he was talking to Wooyoung. It was like he completely melted from the inside out, going from ice prince to soft and sweet. And then his eyes would flick to San and he’d freeze up just a little once more.

“I think I should go home,” said San. 

“No, why?” Wooyoung frowned. “You said you didn’t need to be home early tonight.”

“It’s better not to risk it,” said San. He knew when he was butting in. “Hyung said he was just gonna pick up some art supplies, probably not going to go see his boyfriend.”

“Are you sure?” asked Wooyoung. He took both San’s hands in his, turning to face him fully. 

San glanced past him at Yeosang, whose gaze was fixed on nothing. “Yeah, I’m sure. You can come see me after work tomorrow.” He leaned forward, kissed Wooyoung on the lips.

Wooyoung didn’t look too happy at his words, but he nodded. “Let me drop you home.”

“No, you don’t need to do that,” said San quickly. “I’ll just get a cab.”

“No way,” insisted Wooyoung. “Me and Yeosang will drop you at your apartment, and then we can go back home together.”

“You don’t need to do that,” said San.

“It’s no problem at all,” said Yeosang.

“You don’t need to do that,” repeated San, more firmly this time. He caught a flash of something in Yeosang’s eyes and ignored it, turning back to Wooyoung. “I’m okay, babe.”

“I’m not letting you go alone,” said Wooyoung. 

San would’ve argued back—he could be just as stubborn as Wooyoung—but Yeosang was there and he didn’t want to make a scene in front of him. Instead he sighed, and said, “What if I call Hongjoong-hyung to come pick me up? The place he gets his paints and stuff from is near here.”

Wooyoung paused for a moment, and then he said, “Okay.”

San laughed a little, not only at how easy it was to convince Wooyoung but how much faith Wooyoung had in Hongjoong’s capabilities, and then he kissed him before he went to call Hongjoong. 

He picked up on the second ring. “San, hey,” said Hongjoong. “What’s up?”

“Hyung,” said San. “Are you busy?”

“Why?”

“You went to get art supplies, right?” asked San. “The usual place?”

“Uh, yeah,” said Hongjoong. “Why, do you need something?”

“Kind of,” said San. “Would you mind picking me up? Wooyoung’s kind of busy and can’t drop me home, but he doesn’t want me going alone. I’m at that kids’ park nearby.”

There was a bit of a pause and then Hongjoong said, “Oh, yeah, sure. I’m coming. It might take a while though, I’m still… getting some stuff.”

“That’s fine,” said San. “Thanks, hyung.”

“It’s no problem. See you.”

Hongjoong ended the call, and San returned to Wooyoung and Yeosang. “He’s coming,” he said. 

They wandered around back to the side of the park that ran along the street. The entire park was deserted, and it would’ve been scary if San hadn’t had Wooyoung beside him. It was hard to feel scared of anything when your boyfriend was a vampire. 

Wooyoung sat in one of the swings, rocking back and forth gently. San stood behind him and grabbed hold of the chains. “I hope you know you made me interrupt Hongjoong-hyung’s date,” he said, grumbling but not really upset. 

“I thought you said he just went shopping for art stuff,” said Wooyoung. 

Yeosang wandered away as they started talking, and San didn’t try and get him to stay. He didn’t really think he’d be interested in a conversation about Hongjoong anyway. “That’s what he said, but I know for a fact his shift ended a long time ago,” said San. 

“Hey, about that,” said Wooyoung. “Are you 100% totally completely sure he’s—uh—”

“Dating a vampire? Definitely,” said San. “I’d ask him straight out but Yunho, that coward, begged me not to because he doesn’t wanna make things weird.” He rolled his eyes.

“Maybe that’s a good idea,” said Wooyoung. “It’s super awkward, you know. I remember meeting all of Seonghwa-hyung’s exes. Awkward as hell, especially after they break up. Then he’s all oh but wasn’t he so pretty? and why didn’t you warn me? and even more moping. I’m glad he doesn’t care about us meeting this one.”

San hummed. Not for the first time he wondered where Hongjoong had met his vampire boyfriend, how they’d even gotten together. It was so weird and unexpected, and San couldn’t wrap his mind around it, only half listening to Wooyoung move on to the next topic and talk about getting Seonghwa a cake decorating set because the older vampire had really gotten into baking. 

Yunho had said Hongjoong’s boyfriend had dark hair and was handsome. That, and the fact that he was a vampire, was all the information San had. Of course, San didn’t know that many vampires anyway. Just Wooyoung, and Yeosang (who Yunho had already met), and Mingi (impossible), Jongho, Seonghwa—

Seonghwa, who did have dark hair and was handsome and was, definitely, a vampire. 

“—like how do they get those flower swirls on the cakes in the display? Do you need special stuff for that? Because hyung likes flowers so he’d probably like to do those—”

“Babe,” said San. “Have you seen Seonghwa-hyung’s boyfriend?” 

Wooyoung stopped in the middle of his frosting musings. “The new one? I don’t think so.”

“Right,” said San. “So you’ve never seen his face? Ever?”

“Nope,” said Wooyoung. “I think Yeosangie might’ve though. I heard him talking to Seonghwa-hyung about him.”

“And he didn’t tell you anything about him?” asked San. 

“Not really,” said Wooyoung, frowning. “I mean I never asked.”

San hummed, thinking it over. It was probably nothing anyway. Seonghwa would’ve told Wooyoung after all, and even if he didn’t Yeosang would’ve. There were lots of other vampires with black hair in Seoul. It was nothing.

The thought faded soon enough as they talked about other things, and soon San even forgot about Yeosang. He got tired of making Wooyoung turn to look at him and came around to sit on his lap. 

“We’re gonna break the thing,” said Wooyoung with a squawk. 

“It’s made of metal!” cried San. “How heavy do you think I am?”

“The seat is gonna give out under my butt,” said Wooyoung. “It was made for kids, not two grown adults.”

“I’m pretty much a kid,” said San indignantly. “And you’re even younger than me, technically.”

“Technically,” said Wooyoung. He was laughing so hard San almost slipped off him, and when San shoved at him he laughed even harder. San twisted around to get a good grip on the chains, and that’s when he saw him.

Hongjoong was there, standing by the edge of the street, and he was… talking to Yeosang?

They’d met one time before, San remembered, but that was ages ago, before Hongjoong had even met Wooyoung. Did he even remember Yeosang?

“Babe, hyung is here,” said San, getting to his feet. Wooyoung immediately sobered up and got up to follow San.

Hongjoong didn’t look happy. San was still too far to hear what they were talking about, but he could see whatever it was Hongjoong was not enjoying it. He caught sight of San and Wooyoung and propped up a smile and nodded, and San smiled back. 

“Hyung, thanks for coming,” he said brightly, walking up to them. 

Wooyoung suddenly grabbed San’s wrist and stopped dead. He was frozen still, eyes wide and fixed on Hongjoong and Yeosang in front of him before he wrenched his gaze to face San. 

“What’s wrong?” asked San, worried. He’d never seen Wooyoung like this before. 

“I need to talk to you,” said Wooyoung, and it was like he was physically forcing the words out. “Like, right now.” He looked back at Hongjoong and said, in a high-pitched panicky voice, “Hi, sorry, I need to talk to San, we’ll be right back,” and then he dragged San away.

“What is happening?” demanded San, as soon as they were out of earshot. “What—is something wrong?”

Wooyoung let go of San and whirled around to face him. “Seonghwa-hyung,” he said, eyes wide. 

“What? What about him?” San didn’t understand.

“He’s—shit.” Wooyoung bounced up and down, too much energy in his system. “Okay, so, like, you know that I can smell, right? And I can smell humans, humans smell really strong, like you and you smell so good—”

“Calm down,” said San, grabbing Wooyoung by the upper arms. “Calm. Talk.”

“Right. Okay.” Wooyoung took a deep breath, which would’ve been funny because he didn’t need it, but San was too busy worrying about what got him so spooked. “Humans have a really strong smell in their blood. But it’s different for vampires. Normally you can’t smell them unless you’re, like, up close and against them, but you can smell their—you can smell when they feed. Their venom in a human’s blood. That is really strong.”

“Okay,” said San slowly. “And?”

“You can smell when a vampire drinks from a human,” said Wooyoung. He looked San dead in the eye. “And I can smell Seonghwa-hyung.”

“What?” San laughed. “That makes no sense, unless—”

He stopped as the realization hit. He whipped his head around to look at Hongjoong, and then back at Wooyoung. Wooyoung nodded.

“No,” hissed San. “No way. No fucking way, no fucking way—”

“I swear,” said Wooyoung, bouncing from foot to foot. “I swear, I know what Seonghwa-hyung’s venom smells like, that’s definitely him.”

“I believe you,” said San, but he wasn’t even listening to his own words anymore. 

Seonghwa. Hongjoong wasn’t the type of person who’d let himself get bitten just for the high. If he was letting a vampire feed from him, it would only be one vampire. The one he was dating. The one he went to see every night he could, the one who dropped him home after work, the tall, dark-haired vampire Yunho had run into in their kitchen. 

Seonghwa. 

“Fuck,” said San. 

“What do we do?” asked Wooyoung, half panicking already. “Should I say something? Should I talk to Seonghwa-hyung?”

“I need to talk to Yunho first,” said San. He wasn’t doing anything without talking to Yunho first, no matter how much he wanted to run right over and scream in Hongjoong’s face. “Act cool.”

“I can’t act cool!” wailed Wooyoung. “I am the exact opposite of cool!” 

“Then just stare at me and keep your mouth shut,” said San. He grabbed Wooyoung by the hand and pulled him back to where Hongjoong and Yeosang were waiting. 

“All done with whatever you were doing?” asked Hongjoong.

You’re dating Seonghwa-hyung, you lying liar of a liar. San nodded. 

They made their goodbyes. San wasn’t really paying attention, putting all his focus on keeping his face straight as he got his thoughts in order. The cab ride back home was silent. San got a whiff of an unfamiliar perfume, but other than that everything was the same. Hongjoong was a little quieter than usual, not even trying to start conversation, and San was glad. He didn’t think he’d be able to handle a conversation. 

As soon as they got home San ran to his room and very quietly shut the door behind him. Yunho looked up from where he’d been reading on his bed. “Oh, you’re back early,” he said. 

San took a deep breath. “Yunho,” he said.

“Yeah?” Yunho looked a little freaked out. “What’s up?”

“Hongjoong-hyung’s boyfriend,” said San. “I know who it is.” 

Yunho sat up. “Seriously? You know him?”

“Yeah,” said San. “And so do you.” 

“I thought we agreed he was a vampire,” said Yunho, confused. “I don’t know any vampires except Mingi, Yeosang, and Wooyoung.”

“It’s Seonghwa-hyung,” said San, unable to keep it in any longer. “Hyung is dating Seonghwa-hyung.”

“Wait, hold up,” said Yunho, brow furrowed. “Seonghwa? He’s—that Seonghwa-hyung? Mingi’s Seonghwa-hyung?”

San nodded. 

Yunho’s mouth dropped open. Then he slammed it shut and threw the book aside, jumping to his feet. “How do you know?” he whispered urgently. “How do you know he’s dating—that he’s—I mean—”

“Wooyoung smelled him on Hongjoong-hyung,” said San. “He’s been feeding from him.”

“That doesn’t mean they’re dating,” said Yunho quickly. “That doesn’t mean hyung is dating Mingi’s hyung.”

San wanted to scream. “Really?” he hissed. “You think Hongjoong-hyung would let a vampire feed from him for the kick? That he’d let Seonghwa-hyung feed—”

He stopped as he suddenly remembered how Hongjoong had had Seonghwa’s number, how he’d called one night when San had been at the big house. And Seonghwa talking to Hongjoong in the park when San had introduced Wooyoung to Hongjoong, Seonghwa running back to his house to get something for him. Seonghwa had had trouble with his boyfriend the same time Hongjoong had argued with his boyfriend, and they’d made up almost around the same time.

And now San did scream into his hands. He’d been so stupid

“This can’t be happening,” said Yunho. “This can’t be happening, not with—I mean, with Mingi’s brother!” He made a face. “That’s so gross. It’s like marrying your in-laws.”

“Are you serious?” screeched San. “That’s your problem? You know I was already dating Wooyoung?”

“It’s too many in-laws now,” said Yunho. “Like, in-laws both ways.”

San gave up. Yunho was obviously too shocked to make any sense. He understood, he’d felt the same, but the initial shock had worn off and now the facts were sinking in. 

The facts. Hongjoong was dating Seonghwa, and had been for a long time. He’d never told San about it. He knew San was dating Wooyoung and had never thought to tell San he was dating Seonghwa. No, even worse, he’d tried to hide it from him. He was still trying to hide it. 

When it was an unknown, faceless vampire, it had been just a secret. Now that San knew it was Seonghwa, it felt like a betrayal.

He needed to talk to someone, and Yunho was useless. San took out his laptop and started a video call with Wooyoung. He picked up in seconds, and when his camera turned on San recognized Wooyoung and Mingi’s room, and three faces. Wooyoung and Mingi were right in front of the camera, Yeosang leaning against the wall near the foot of the bed. 

“San,” said Mingi, as soon as the call started. “Tell me Wooyoung’s kidding. Seonghwa-hyung cannot be dating your big scary hyung. He can’t be serious right now.”

San just shook his head.

“He can’t be serious,” said Mingi with a laugh, but he didn’t sound confident at all. “I mean, that’s all wrong. Seonghwa-hyung likes small pretty guys, not Hongjoong.”

“Ming.” Yunho popped his head into the screen. “Ming, Hongjoong-hyung is small and pretty.”

“No,” said Mingi, laughing nervously. “No, I mean… no.”

“I smelled him,” said Wooyoung. He looked a lot calmer than he had before. “That was definitely hyung.”

“Okay, so hyung was feeding from him,” said Mingi. “Doesn’t mean they’re together. Ask Yeosang, he knows hyung’s boyfriend.”

In one motion all heads turned to look at Yeosang. He started and shrunk in on himself, uncomfortable being the center of attention.

“Yeosangie,” said Wooyoung slowly, after a moment. “You know Seonghwa-hyung’s boyfriend?”

Yeosang’s gaze flicked from Wooyoung, to Mingi, to Yunho and San, and then back to Wooyoung. He nodded.

“And it’s Hongjoong,” said Wooyoung. “It’s San’s hyung Hongjoong.”

Another pause, another stretch of silence. And then Yeosang nodded again.

That convinced Mingi. He yelled, loud and deep, and then smacked a hand over his mouth and continued yelling for some time. “Yunho,” he hissed, when he had finally screamed as much as he needed to. “Yunho he knows me, he knows how I am, Seonghwa-hyung definitely told him—”

“Calm down, it’s okay,” said Yunho. He pushed San to the side and instinctively moved his hands out, like he was trying to reach through the screen and hold Mingi’s. “It’s okay, it’s fine.”

“How is it fine? It’s totally not fine!”

But San wasn’t paying attention to Mingi and Yunho anymore. Wooyoung had moved away from the camera to right beside Yeosang, and San found himself straining his ears to hear their conversation.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” asked Wooyoung. “You should’ve told me.”

“I’m sorry,” said Yeosang quietly, so faint San barely heard. “Seonghwa-hyung asked me not to.”

Wooyoung was silent a moment, chewing his lip. “Is this what you couldn’t talk to me about?” he asked. He reached out, took Yeosang’s hand. “Is this why you closed yourself up, so I wouldn’t know about this?”

“No,” said Yeosang, looking away. “I mean, yes, I did hide this from you and I tried not to let you know and…” He shrugged. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, I know the only reason you didn’t tell me is because of hyung,” said Wooyoung. “I just don’t understand why he didn’t want us to know.” 

Yeosang didn’t say anything, but his gaze went back to the camera and his eyes locked onto San’s. 

“Choi San!” 

San slammed the laptop shut as Hongjoong opened the door and stuck his head inside. Yunho jumped and moved away from him, grabbing the book he’d been reading before like it was a shield.

“You left your shoes all over the floor,” said Hongjoong, fighting a grin as he tried to sound serious. “You could at least put them next to the door. I almost tripped on one and broke my nose.”

You’ve been lying to me. You made Seonghwa-hyung lie to me. Every time I went to their house and you didn’t tell me the truth you were lying. Every time you glared at Wooyoung and made him feel like he wasn’t good enough for me, or gave me a look like he was dangerous, when you tried to forbid me to let him bite me while Seonghwa-hyung sunk his fangs into you—

“Sorry,” said San.

“Just make sure you don’t do it again,” said Hongjoong. He broke into a smile. “You’re going to bed?”

San nodded, and a second later Yunho followed his lead and did the same.

Hongjoong looked like he didn’t even notice. “Okay, see you guys in the morning,” he said. “Good night.”

“Night,” murmured San. 

Hongjoong flashed them one more smile, and then he pulled his head back and closed the door.

Yunho collapsed onto the bed, exhausted. He groaned and rolled over, burying his face into the pillow. “Shit,” he said, voice muffled. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to act like everything’s the same now. Shit.”

Absentmindedly San reached out and rubbed his back. He understood. He’d been surprised too, but everything made sense now. All the dumb secrecy, why Hongjoong had evaded every question about this boyfriend he supposedly cared for so much, why he’d stopped asking after Wooyoung and nagging San about their dates. San got it, and he understood Yunho completely.

San didn’t know how he was supposed to act like everything was the same.

Chapter Text

Christmas was days away and the front lobby of Seonghwa’s apartment building was decorated with festive wreaths and a small plastic tree. The security guard nodded when he caught sight of Hongjoong, waving him through. He’d come by enough times to be recognized.

He mentally organized the time he had that night as he went up in the elevator. Hongjoong was supposed to be working, but the owner of the music store had closed an hour early, saying they deserved some extra time to spend with their loved ones. And so here Hongjoong was, going up to Seonghwa’s apartment and hoping to get some work done before heading home.

Seonghwa had offered his extra room to Hongjoong as an art studio, and Hongjoong hadn’t put up much of a fight before accepting. Almost all his paintings were now here, most unfinished and still in progress, others completed when he’d gotten a burst of inspiration at the right time. Hongjoong hadn’t worked so much on his art in ages. Somehow he’d never had the time, always worrying about his next shift, next month’s bills, some extra expense that always popped up when they could least afford it.

It wasn’t like he was any less busy now, with holiday season in full swing and the workload climbing up at two of his three jobs, but this time around it was different. Hongjoong felt at ease. And he’d never felt at ease like this, not in years. Not since his parents had died and he’d worked day and night to get out of his small town, and then to support him and San and Yunho in Seoul. 

Hongjoong felt good, and relaxed. It was a little weird, but he decided he could get used to it.

He knew Seonghwa had spent the day at the apartment instead of his great, old house, but he didn’t know if he’d left when the sun had set. Hongjoong had thought about calling and asking to confirm, but since he told himself he was only coming to paint and he had a spare key—at Seonghwa’s insistence, of course—it didn’t seem necessary. And he kind of liked the idea of surprising Seonghwa.

The elevator sounded a ding, signaling Hongjoong had arrived at his floor. He adjusted his bag with a grin, already thinking of seeing Seonghwa’s surprised look when he saw him at the door.

The doors opened up and Hongjoong found himself nose to nose with Jongho.

He jumped. The vampire started too, and then took a step back and out of his way. “Hongjoong-ssi,” he said. “Sorry. I didn’t know someone was coming up.”

“It’s—it’s cool, I didn’t know someone was waiting for the elevator,” said Hongjoong, stepping out of it.

And into the foyer, with Jongho. He didn’t know if the other felt as awkward as he did, but Hongjoong felt pretty damn awkward, and since he was in a weird kind of way technically older, he decided it was his responsibility to make things more comfortable. 

“So,” said Hongjoong, more than damn awkward. “You came to see Seonghwa?”

“Yes,” said Jongho. If he felt half as uncomfortable as Hongjoong he was doing a much better job hiding it. “He’s not usually at the house nowadays, and I wanted to spend some time with him.” He smiled, perfectly polite, and Hongjoong appreciated the effort.

“You guys seem close,” he said. 

“We’ve known each other a couple of years,” said Jongho. “He took me in when no one else thought I was worth giving a chance. He’s a good person.”

“He is,” agreed Hongjoong. He didn’t know where to go from that, but luckily he didn’t have to.

“I’m very sorry about how we met,” said Jongho. “I genuinely didn’t know you were lost, though that’s no excuse. I should’ve done better.”

There was something in his words that reminded Hongjoong of Seonghwa. Not the tone, which was formal and a little distant, but the words themselves. Jongho must’ve had a conversation with Seonghwa about this.

“I understand,” said Hongjoong. Not it’s okay, because it wasn’t really, but he understood. “It was a mistake. It’s not like you’ll be doing it again either.”

“You’re right, I won’t,” said Jongho. “Thank you.”

Hongjoong put on a polite smile that must’ve looked horribly awkward, and was all ready to escape the conversation when Jongho asked, totally out of the blue, “Did you move in?”

“What?” Hongjoong laughed in surprise. “I—no. I didn’t move in. I think Seonghwa would’ve told you if we were moving in together.”

“Right,” said Jongho, but it sounded hollow. He pressed the button and the elevator doors opened again. He stepped inside. “I should go now. See you later, Hongjoong-ssi.”

“Hyung.” 

Jongho’s eyebrows disappeared into his bangs. “Huh?”

“You can call me hyung,” said Hongjoong. He put on a smile he hoped was more natural than the last. 

Jongho smiled back, and the doors closed between them.

Alone again, Hongjoong took a deep breath. That wasn’t too bad. He didn’t really like Jongho—everything about him felt plastic, like he was wearing a mask so thick it was obvious it was fake—but he was a permanent fixture in Seonghwa’s life. If Hongjoong wanted to stay a part of Seonghwa’s life he couldn’t hold onto that grudge. 

Besides, the vampire had apologized, and it felt like he literally couldn’t be any more sincere. Where Seonghwa was so open and full of emotion, Jongho felt a little empty inside. 

Hongjoong put the thought aside as he rang the doorbell. He barely had time to smile before the lock opened with a click and the door swung open.

“Did you decide—?” Seonghwa stopped, and broke into the most beautiful smile. “Hongjoong.”

“Surprise,” said Hongjoong, grinning wide. 

“I thought—don’t you have work?” asked Seonghwa. “I was going to pick you up.”

“We closed up early,” said Hongjoong, walking in as Seonghwa moved aside. “I thought I’d drop by here.”

“You should’ve called,” said Seonghwa. The inside of the apartment was cold, and he hurried to turn the heat up. “I was going to go back to the house after dropping you home.”

“You still can, if you want,” said Hongjoong with a grin, knowing Seonghwa would never.

Seonghwa knew it too, because he huffed. He still moved close up to him, and when Hongjoong kissed him he locked his hands around his waist, drawing in even closer. 

“Your face is freezing,” said Hongjoong with a laugh, and he yelped when Seonghwa buried his ice cold nose in his neck. “Seriously, you’re a block of ice.”

“I need you to warm me up,” said Seonghwa, voice muffled against Hongjoong’s coat. 

“Do you have to be so cheesy?” said Hongjoong, but he couldn’t help but smile.

“You love it,” said Seonghwa, mouth against his neck, and then he straightened and kissed Hongjoong’s lips one more time before letting go. 

The apartment didn’t take long to heat up, and soon Hongjoong had his coat hung on the back of a chair as he added to his latest painting. This one had more realism than his usual style, more precise strokes, careful movements of the brush. It was a nature landscape, not something Hongjoong would typically paint and not so methodically, but he felt like trying something different.

Seonghwa came in with a tray of cookies and a hot drink, and waited until Hongjoong stopped to take a sip before saying, “It looks great.”

“Thanks,” said Hongjoong, shoving a whole cookie in his mouth. He stopped, and then turned to Seonghwa. “Did you make these?”

“Stop talking with your mouth full, that’s disgusting,” said Seonghwa with a grimace. 

Hongjoong swallowed. “Did you make these?” he repeated. 

“I did,” said Seonghwa. He fiddled with his fingers in his lap. “Are they okay?”

“How did you learn how to bake?” Hongjoong was lost. “You don’t eat food. You can’t taste anything.”

“I can follow instructions,” said Seonghwa. “Now tell me if they’re okay.”

“They look horrible,” said Hongjoong, trying not to grin and probably failing miserably. “Like, hideous. Fucking awful. But they taste okay.”

“You could’ve started with the last bit,” said Seonghwa with another annoyed huff. He did that a lot around Hongjoong, and Hongjoong loved it every time. “Also a thank you would be nice.”

“Aww, you made these just for me?” Hongjoong grinned cheekily. “I’m honored.”

“Of course I did,” said Seonghwa, too annoyed to play along. “Who else would I make them for?”

Hongjoong stopped teasing. “Thank you, Peach,” he said, genuine. He reached out with his free hand and interlaced Seonghwa’s fingers with his.

“Somehow it’s worse when you’re serious,” said Seonghwa, with that grimacing smile that was so uniquely him. He rubbed his thumb against the back of Hongjoong’s hand.

Hongjoong flashed a grin at him and gave his hand a quick squeeze before setting the mug down and picking up his brush again. They spent a few minutes in silence, only the sound of the brush against canvas in the room, before Hongjoong said, “I ran into Jongho today.”

“Where?” asked Seonghwa. “He left just a few minutes before you arrived.”

“Just outside the elevator,” said Hongjoong. He hesitated. “He seems like a nice enough kid,” he continued carefully. “He said sorry to me for—y’know, the whole first meeting.”

“He really is a good kid,” said Seonghwa earnestly. His fingers tightened around Hongjoong’s, apparently subconsciously. “And we’ve talked about it, he’s genuinely sorry for what he did, and it was a mistake. It’s no excuse, but I just want you to know that.”

Hongjoong hummed and nodded. “Yeah, I believe him.” He laughed awkwardly and said, “You know he asked if we’d moved in together? Like you wouldn’t have told him first.”

He glanced at Seonghwa, expecting a smile on his face, or a laugh. Instead a deep sadness hung heavy in Seonghwa’s dark eyes as he focused on the empty space between their bodies.

“Hey,” said Hongjoong softly, leaning in closer. “Peach. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” said Seonghwa, shaking his head. “Nothing, I just—I worry about him.” He bit his lower lip. “He has trouble getting close to people and he’s always scared we’re going to leave him. That I’m going to leave him. You don’t know but—he’s been through a lot and I just…” He sighed, looking away.

“I know,” said Hongjoong quietly. When Seonghwa looked up at him he added, “Wooyoung told me.”

Seonghwa frowned, brow furrowing. “Why would he tell you that? Everything? About Jongho?”

“I asked him about something related, it just came up,” said Hongjoong. He didn’t want to throw Wooyoung under the bus. “I’m sorry if you didn’t want me to know. But it’s not something to hide. Jongho’s maker is the one who’s fucked up, not him.”

“I know that,” said Seonghwa. He let go of Hongjoong’s hand to run his own through his hair. “I know, it’s just… it’s his thing to tell. He doesn’t tell people.”

Hongjoong could understand that. He didn’t enjoy putting his personal business out there either. “Sorry,” he said, though it was kind of pointless. He couldn’t unlearn it.

“No, it…” Seonghwa just sighed. “I don’t know what to do. I thought he was finally getting comfortable with us, that he felt secure and confident. But now it’s just like how it was before, when Mingi first joined. Every time Jongho looked at me it was like he was just waiting for me to tell him that I didn’t want him around anymore.” He bit his lower lip, hurt taking over his features. “And now it feels as though he’s going right back to that. I don’t know what to do. Is this not enough? Am I…?” He trailed off, shaking his head.

There was silence as Hongjoong searched for what to say. “It’s not you,” he said finally. “Seonghwa, I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to love more than you love him. You could give him all the love in the world—and knowing you, you probably do—but it’s up to him to realize he deserves it.” 

“You think he feels like he doesn’t deserve it?” asked Seonghwa.

“That’s what I’d think,” said Hongjoong, and immediately regretted it when he saw Seonghwa’s pained expression. “I just mean, like, he thinks everyone’s gonna leave him. Might think they would be right to.”

“But how do I convince him that I won’t?” A deep frown touched Seonghwa’s features. “That I’d never, no matter what?”

“I don’t really know,” admitted Hongjoong. “Short of like, printing out a huge sign and smacking him over the head with it.”

Seonghwa blinked at him, and then to Hongjoong’s utter surprise, snorted. “Why is your solution always to hit people on the head?” he asked with a little chuckle.

“It always works,” said Hongjoong, smiling. He was just relieved to see Seonghwa smile again. There were issues in his family Hongjoong couldn’t hope to untangle, but at least he could say dumb things and make Seonghwa smile.

He slipped off his chair and stood before Seonghwa, watching the smile bloom ever wider on his face as he lifted his chin. Hongjoong walked right up to him, smiling as he felt Seonghwa’s arms wrap around his waist and hold him close. 

“Thanks,” said Seonghwa, face against Hongjoong’s chest.

“For what?” asked Hongjoong.

“For everything,” said Seonghwa.

Hongjoong put his arms around Seonghwa’s shoulders. “Thank you to you too,” he said. “For the ugly cookies.”

Seonghwa laughed, shaking slightly in his embrace.

Hongjoong ran his fingers through Seonghwa’s hair. “You wanna feed?” 

“I shouldn’t,” mumbled Seonghwa, but his hands were already sneaking in under Hongjoong’s shirt. “I don’t need to.”

“You didn’t last night,” said Hongjoong. “It’s okay.”

Seonghwa pulled away from Hongjoong’s chest to look up at him, eyes searching. Hongjoong bent over to kiss him, hoping it was enough of an answer. He smiled into the kiss when he felt Seonghwa getting up.

 

The phone buzzed loudly, almost falling off the table with the vibration. Hongjoong leaned across and picked up the call after a glance at the caller ID.

“San, hey,” he said, catching Seonghwa’s attention. “What’s up?”

“Hyung,” said San. “Are you busy?”

Hongjoong looked down at Seonghwa’s head pillowed on his lap, and where he’d been drawing stars across his collarbone with a felt-tip pen. “Why?”

“You went to get art supplies, right?” asked San. “The usual place?”

“Uh, yeah,” said Hongjoong, hoping the lie wasn’t as obvious as it felt. “Why, do you need something?” Seonghwa opened his mouth to speak and Hongjoong shot him a look that shut him up, though he was still grinning.

“Kind of,” said San. “Would you mind picking me up? Wooyoung’s kind of busy and can’t drop me home, but he doesn’t want me going alone. I’m at that kids’ park nearby.”

Hongjoong knew the place. He calculated how far it was from Seonghwa’s apartment, and from the art store where he should’ve been. “Oh, yeah, sure,” he said finally. “I’m coming. It might take a while though, I’m still… getting some stuff.”

Seonghwa frowned, and started grumbling just too low for San to hear. Hongjoong yanked on his ear, making Seonghwa frown even more but thankfully fall quiet. 

“That’s fine,” said San. “Thanks, hyung.”

“It’s no problem,” said Hongjoong, ignoring Seonghwa’s aggressive pouting. “See you.”

As soon as he ended the call Seonghwa grabbed him around the middle and said, “You can’t be serious. Don’t go.”

“I need to pick up San,” said Hongjoong, gently extricating himself from Seonghwa’s long limbs. “It’s late, I can’t send him home alone.”

“Sannie? What’s he doing out so late alone?” asked Seonghwa, as he flipped onto his front and propped himself up on his elbows.

“What do you think? He was on a date,” said Hongjoong. His shirt was all wrinkly, but it would be hidden under his jacket so it was fine. “Apparently Wooyoung had to go somewhere so he’s alone now at a damn park. I’ll just go pick him up and go home.”

“I’ll drop you there,” said Seonghwa. 

“You don’t have to,” said Hongjoong, but Seonghwa was already climbing out of bed.

Seonghwa drove him to the corner by the park, but out of sight in case San was by the street. Hongjoong kissed him right before he got out of the car, mussing his hair up with it, and was rewarded with another of those pained smiles Seonghwa did so well. Hongjoong just laughed before leaving to go get San.

But it wasn’t San he found standing by the edge of the street. It was Yeosang.

“Hello,” said Yeosang as Hongjoong approached, and there was a twinkle in his eye Hongjoong didn’t like. “Back from Seonghwa-hyung’s place?”

Instinctively Hongjoong almost reached for his shoulder, where the bite marks hadn’t faded yet, but he knew that was ridiculous. There was no way the marks were visible. 

Yeosang seemed to read his thoughts and said, “It’s kind of obvious. Hyung hasn’t been home, not since two nights ago. You certainly keep him busy.”

“I don’t think that’s any of your business,” said Hongjoong shortly. He didn’t like Yeosang and he didn’t want to drag this conversation out any longer. He looked around and spotted San by the swingset, along with Wooyoung, and had a polite escape from the ongoing talk all ready. 

“You’re right, it really isn’t,” said Yeosang pleasantly, like he didn’t notice how much Hongjoong wanted to leave or he didn’t care. “But I am just so curious. How do you manage to fuck with that gigantic stick up your ass?”

Hongjoong stopped. “Okay,” he said, all intentions of a polite, quick exit gone. “What the fuck is your problem?”

The polite façade dropped at the speed of light. “I don’t like you,” said Yeosang.

“Wow, what a surprise,” said Hongjoong, dripping sarcasm. “Not what I asked. What’s your problem with me?”

“Should I make a list?” asked Yeosang. “You’re playing Seonghwa-hyung. Your very existence has hurt Jongho more deeply than anything in the last five years. And maybe worst of all, you demeaned Wooyoung and made him feel like he wasn’t worthy of your precious friend’s attention.”

“Wooyoung isn’t mad at me, why are you?” shot back Hongjoong. “I know Jongho’s not in the best place right now but I didn’t do that. And what the fuck do you mean, playing Seonghwa?” 

“Whatever relationship you have with him,” said Yeosang. “Is it just a game to you?”

“It’s not a game, and it’s not your business either,” said Hongjoong through gritted teeth.

“It is my business, because I care about him and you’re going to hurt him much worse than you already have,” said Yeosang. “I don’t know what you’re playing at pretending to love him, but I don’t trust you.”

“Pretending?” Hongjoong scoffed in disbelief. “And why do you think I’m pretending?”

“If you genuinely loved him you wouldn’t work so hard to hide your relationship,” said Yeosang with an unpleasant smile. “I understand why you don’t want to go. He’s pure, he’s handsome, he’s rich. Vampire or not, that should be enough for you to realize you don’t deserve him.”

“I don’t need your input on a relationship you’re not a part of,” snapped Hongjoong. “Kindly fuck off. I’m not here to talk to you anyway.”

He moved to get San and leave, but Yeosang stepped in front of him. “Hyung will realize you don’t love him and it’ll destroy him,” he said. “If you have any semblance of sense, you’ll leave before this gets any more serious.”

Hongjoong fixed him with a sharp look. “Are you threatening me?”

“No, I’m only giving you some advice,” said Yeosang. 

“You’re really good at that, giving advice,” said Hongjoong. “Here’s some for you. Leave me and Seonghwa alone. You keep talking about me hurting him but he’s happy with me.” He took a deep breath. “Or is that your problem? That we’re happy together.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Yeosang, a ghost of a frown touching his brow. 

“You’re bitter and lonely,” said Hongjoong, and he knew it was petty and childish but he was pissed off. “You’re alone and no one wants you and that’s why you hate me.”

Yeosang went perfectly still, like a statue. “That’s not true,” he said. “I am not unwanted.”

That surprised Hongjoong. He hadn’t expected to hit a nerve. He wanted to dig deeper, twist the screws in, but he had to remember that, for some reason Hongjoong couldn’t grasp, Seonghwa loved Yeosang, and in a way they were family. So he shut up and tried to let it be.

But Yeosang took his silence for something else. “You’re unwanted, and you should go,” he said, voice brittle. His cool exterior was cracking, and Hongjoong could see it, see the dark fire underneath. “You have no place in our coven. You have no place in our lives, and you should go before you ruin everything. Everything was fine before you arrived.” He ran a hand through his long blond hair. “We were happy before you. Before you came and turned everything upside down. You, and—and San—”

“San?” Hongjoong cut him off. “What the hell did he do wrong? Your best friend is in love with him.”

But even as he said it, Hongjoong realized. And Yeosang saw the realization in his eyes, his own eyes going wide, and he immediately shut down and whipped his head to the side. 

Hongjoong caught sight of San and Wooyoung approaching, and quickly rearranged his features into a smile before nodding. 

“Hyung, thanks for coming,” said San with a bright smile. 

Before he could say anything more Wooyoung suddenly grabbed his arm and stopped him. His eyes were huge, fixed on Hongjoong. Hongjoong tensed. Had Wooyoung heard? Did he suddenly realize the same thing Hongjoong had?

“What’s wrong?” asked San, worried.

“I need to talk to you,” said Wooyoung, in a low voice. “Like, right now.” He looked at Hongjoong, eyes wide and voice high, and said, “Hi, sorry, I need to talk to San, we’ll be right back.”

And then Wooyoung was gone, pulling San along with him. Hongjoong was again alone with Yeosang. 

The vampire’s eyes were on San and Wooyoung, filled with too many overlapping emotions for Hongjoong to fully distinguish. But there was a longing there. Hongjoong could see that plain as day, and he knew what it meant.

“Leave San alone,” he said quietly. 

Yeosang snapped his head back to look at Hongjoong. “I haven’t done anything to him.”

“If you even think of hurting him I will find out,” said Hongjoong. 

“I haven’t done anything to him,” repeated Yeosang tonelessly. 

Hongjoong didn’t say anything to that, only fixed an unwavering glare on the vampire. Yeosang stared back at him with light eyes that held no emotion. 

“Does Wooyoung know?” asked Hongjoong.

A flicker in the gaze. “Know what?” 

That was answer enough for Hongjoong. He refused to break eye contact with Yeosang, only looking away when San and Wooyoung finally returned.

Hongjoong was polite and, he hoped, friendly to Wooyoung, but Wooyoung looked shaken from whatever had spooked him before, and he barely got out responses. Hongjoong noticed he stood very close to Yeosang, much closer than Hongjoong would’ve found comfortable, but he didn’t comment. He just wished Wooyoung a merry Christmas, and then got in a cab with San to go home. 

They rode in silence, Hongjoong deep in thought. He didn’t think he was wrong. Yeosang had some sort of possessive feelings over Wooyoung, and they looked romantic. He didn’t trust Hongjoong, which Hongjoong could almost give a pass for, but he harbored some real resentment for San. 

He was also dangerous, Hongjoong was sure of that too. His every conversation with Yeosang had at least one genuine threat spoken, and that was to Hongjoong. To San? 

I haven’t done anything to him, Yeosang had said. 

Yet, Hongjoong had heard. 

As soon as they got home San went in his room to talk to Yunho. Hongjoong took off his coat and scarf in his bedroom. He stood in front of the mirror and ran his fingers over the bite marks on his shoulder. They’d be gone by the morning, but until then Hongjoong would have to be a little careful.

He’d just changed into his pyjamas when he got a call, caller ID announcing peach, and for the rest of the night at least Hongjoong’s bad mood was forgotten. 

 

The days leading up to Christmas Eve were busy. San and Yunho’s classes were off, but they were working more than ever, and Hongjoong had to work extra hard at the delivery service. This year, for the first time, he didn’t take extra shifts at any of his jobs. He had the money from his commission, and at the moment they didn’t need any more. 

Most of Hongjoong’s artworks were at Seonghwa’s apartment, but his most important one was sitting on the floor of his bedroom. He worked on Seonghwa’s painting every day, adding to it little by little, and with every passing winter day it got closer and closer to being as perfect as Hongjoong could make it. And he had to make it perfect. It was for Seonghwa, it needed to be as close as it could get to how special he was. 

Seonghwa was spending Christmas and the nights leading up to it with his coven. Which meant San was also away from Wooyoung, which explained the terrible mood he’d been in since the night Hongjoong had picked him up from the park. Most of the time he was like usual, but sometimes he got in a bad mood and looked one second away from snapping. During those times Hongjoong tried not to annoy him further and kept his distance.

And that was how Hongjoong was alone in the living room with Yunho on the night before Christmas when Yunho’s phone started ringing and he picked up with a smile and a “Oh, hey, Yeosang.”

Hongjoong almost crushed the remote in his grip. He didn’t hear any more of the conversation as Yunho got up and went into the kitchen to talk, but he did hear some light laughter a few seconds later.

He didn’t like it. He had no idea how or why Yeosang had gotten close to Yunho, but Hongjoong didn’t trust him. Yeosang didn’t like Hongjoong and he hated San, how could he be friends with Yunho? 

When Yunho returned to the living room he was grinning. Hongjoong waited a few seconds before asking, “Who was that? A friend?”

“Oh, yeah,” said Yunho. “You wouldn’t know him.” 

“Cool,” said Hongjoong. “So that wasn’t Wooyoung’s not-really-brother he shares a blood bond with?”

Yunho froze. “Uh…” 

“Don’t bother,” said Hongjoong flatly. “You and Yeosang are friends? How?”

“Uh, y’know,” said Yunho, shifting uncomfortably. “San. Wooyoung. Y’know.”

“Of course through San and Wooyoung,” said Hongjoong. “I’m asking how.”

Yunho frowned, confused. “I don’t understand.”

Hongjoong thought of a nice way of phrasing his thoughts. He hadn’t told Seonghwa about his encounter with Yeosang at the park, knowing it would just upset him, and he didn’t know how to state his feelings about Yeosang right. Instead he asked, “Don’t you think Yeosang is a little… unfeeling?”

“Oh, come on,” said Yunho with a sigh. “Not you too.”

“What do you mean, me too?” Hongjoong frowned.

“San keeps talking about how Yeosang hates him,” said Yunho. “And yeah Yeosang can be a little awkward at first, but he’s great.”

Then San was aware of it too. But did he know the reason? Hongjoong got up and went to San and Yunho's room, aware of Yunho following behind almost cautiously.

“Hey,” said Hongjoong, sticking his head in after knocking once. “Mind if I talk to you about something?”

“Sure,” said San brightly. He was sitting on his bed, cross legged and with his phone in hand, and he locked and put away his phone. 

“Great,” said Hongjoong. He sat down on the bed opposite San. “So.”

“So,” repeated San, but his eyes were on Yunho, who must've thrown some sort of signal because San looked wary now. “What's up?”

“Okay, so,” said Hongjoong. “I like Wooyoung.”

San shot him a sharp look. “What?”

“I mean, he's a nice guy,” said Hongjoong quickly. “You've met his… family, right?”

The look on San’s face morphed into something Hongjoong had never seen before. “Why?” he asked, half wary, half… something. 

Hongjoong dived in. “Yeosang,” he said. “There’s something… not right about him.”

San let out a laugh of disbelief. “What?” he said. “You—you wanna talk about Yeosang?”

“Who else would I want to talk about?” asked Hongjoong, confused. 

“I don’t know, hyung,” said San, with an edge in his voice. “Who else would you talk about? In Wooyoung’s coven, who else do you think you should be talking to us about?”

“What?” Hongjoong had no idea where San was trying to go with this, but he refused to get sidetracked. “Okay, you know I talked to Yeosang a couple of nights ago.”

“Mm-hmm, a couple of nights ago,” said San. “When you came to pick me up after buying art supplies. Yeah.”

Hongjoong ignored that, the almost mocking undertone. “I got the feeling he doesn’t like you,” he said. “It was more than a feeling, actually. He pretty much told me point blank that he doesn’t like you.”

“We’re not close,” said San. “So?”

“Listen,” said Hongjoong with a deep sigh. “I think Yeosang might be dangerous.”

A startled little laugh sounded from Hongjoong’s left. It was Yunho, standing just inside the doorway. Hongjoong hadn’t even realized he’d followed him in. 

“Yeosang isn’t dangerous,” said Yunho, when he saw Hongjoong looking at him. “He’s… he’s Yeosang.”

“You weren’t there when I talked with him,” said Hongjoong. “It’s obvious he has some grudge against San.”

“So what?” said San, voice sharp. “Lots of people don’t like me. It doesn’t make them dangerous, hyung. Why are you so worried about Yeosang?”

Because he outright threatened me twice, and Seonghwa’s not even the one he’s in love with. “He just gives me a dangerous feel,” said Hongjoong, and he knew it wasn’t helping his case but he didn’t know what else to say. “Even you know he doesn’t like you.”

“That doesn’t mean he’s dangerous,” said San. “Why do you think Yeosang is so dangerous, and not every other person out there who might not like me?”

“Because he’s—” Hongjoong stopped, unable to find the right words. He sighed and got up. It was obvious San wasn’t in the mood to listen. “Just think about it,” he said. “I’m only telling you to be a little careful.” He turned, ready to leave.

“You’re such a hypocrite!”

Hongjoong stopped. “What?”

“You heard me,” said San. He climbed off the bed, got to his feet.

“Hyung, just go,” said Yunho, taking Hongjoong by the elbow gently. 

“No,” said Hongjoong. He shook himself free and turned to face San. “What do you mean?”

“Say it,” spat San. “What were you going to say about Yeosang? He can’t be trusted, he’s inhuman, a monster? Spit it out, hyung. But know that whatever you say is going right back to Seonghwa-hyung.”

“What?” Hongjoong felt his blood run cold. “What are you talking about?”

“You know exactly what I’m talking about,” said San. He laughed mirthlessly. “Honestly, how did you think I wouldn’t find out? Were you just going to keep lying to us forever?”

“San,” said Yunho, walking over to him. “Come on, not now…”

“Then when?” shot back San. “Because hyung was never planning on telling us.” He turned back to Hongjoong. “Were you, hyung? Were you ever going to tell us you were fucking Wooyoung’s hyung?”

Hongjoong froze solid. Every inch of his body stilled, refusing to move, down to every muscle in his throat. “That’s—that’s not—”

“Don’t even dream of playing dumb,” said San. “I just wanna know since when. When you tried to get me to stop seeing Wooyoung? Because he was a vampire, a monster, he would hurt me and drink from me? When you told me I couldn’t go to his house because he would attack me, while all this time you were letting Seonghwa-hyung feed from you?”

“No,” said Hongjoong, but he wasn’t even sure of what he was saying anymore. “It’s… it’s not like that…” 

“So if I checked your neck that night you went to pick me up from the park, I wouldn’t find fang marks there?” demanded San. 

Hongjoong’s words died in his throat. 

“Just tell me since when,” said San. “When you wanted to talk to Wooyoung about vampire stuff? Definitely since before then. You knew him from before I introduced you to Woo at the park. From then? Before?”

“No,” said Hongjoong. “No, not—” He rubbed his face with both hands, hard, trying to regain his senses. “I didn’t mean to lie to you, San,” he said. “Things just… happened.” 

“You could’ve told us,” said San, while Yunho stood next to him a silent statue. “You had a million chances to tell and you just kept lying. You could’ve told us when you asked to talk to Wooyoung. Or when I came with cupcakes from your fucking boyfriend days after your birthday and you pretended like you hated him.” 

“I didn’t pretend to do anything,” said Hongjoong. Something in San’s words felt like a warped, mirrored echo of Yeosang’s, and it left him even more shaken than before. “I know I should’ve told you. I know. But I just… things happened and… and I didn’t plan for things to turn out like this, okay?”

San stared at him, gaze burning with anger, and he said, “Seonghwa-hyung deserves better than you.”

The words hit Hongjoong in the face like a real, solid slap. He stared back at San, trying to think of a response, anything at all, but he was blank. Whatever defense he’d had was gone. 

“San,” hissed Yunho, grabbing his shoulder. “Stop.”

“It’s true,” said San, eyes never leaving Hongjoong. “He wouldn’t tell us ’cause he was—he was ashamed of dating Seonghwa-hyung, Seonghwa-hyung deserves better than that—”

“That’s not true,” said Hongjoong, voice hard. “I am not ashamed of Seonghwa.”

“Then why?” demanded San. “You were! You are! That’s why you never told us, because you said you hated vampires, you said they were dangerous. And you still do, that’s why you tried to warn me about Yeosang.”

“No, I tried to warn you about Yeosang because he is dangerous,” said Hongjoong. 

“Yeah? You think so?” said San, with a terrible viciousness. “You told Seonghwa-hyung that?”

“This has nothing to do with Seonghwa,” said Hongjoong.

“How can you even say that?” cried San. “You didn’t tell Seonghwa-hyung you think his family member is—what, a murderer or something? Did you tell him you thought Wooyoung was one too?” He laughed, hollow. “What was that you said to me when you first met him? When he looks at you he only sees food, and one day he might decide he’s hungry. Did you think that about only Wooyoung, or Seonghwa-hyung too?”

Acid climbed up Hongjoong’s gut and into his throat. “We’re not talking about this right now,” he said. 

“That’s fine, I decided I don’t wanna fucking talk to you anyway,” said San. “I’ll be with my bloodthirsty monster, you go be with yours.”

Hongjoong turned and fled from the room. His heart was pounding in his ears, and the sound was almost enough to make him sick. He went to his room and slammed the door, and then he dropped down onto his bed, running his hands through his hair again and again and again.

San knew. Hongjoong had no idea how he’d found out but he knew. And somehow everything had spiraled, one wrong step after another, and Hongjoong found himself standing in the middle of a wreckage so bad he didn’t even know what it had once been. 

Hongjoong took a deep breath as he sat with his head down. He could fix this. He could make it right. He and San had been friends since forever, this wasn’t something Hongjoong couldn’t fix, he wasn’t a hypocrite and he did deserve Seonghwa, it was going to be fine—

The harsh buzz of Hongjoong’s phone cut through his thoughts. He grabbed it, ready to cancel the call, when he saw who it was.

“Hongjoong.” Seonghwa’s voice was soft. “Wooyoung just got a call from San, and he looked upset. Is everything okay?”

Hongjoong wanted to laugh. Nothing was okay. Instead he took a deep, silent breath, tried to make his voice sound as normal as he could because he knew Seonghwa would worry, and said, “Me and San talked.”

“About what?” asked Seonghwa. “You… you don’t sound good.”

Another deep, silent breath, another useless attempt at sounding normal. “You,” said Hongjoong. He swallowed. “He knows we’re… about us.”

“Oh,” said Seonghwa, a soft sound of surprise. And then, after seconds of silence, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” said Hongjoong. “I mean, it’s not like it’s your fault.”

“It’s no one’s fault,” said Seonghwa.

But that wasn’t true. It was Hongjoong’s fault, and they both knew it. “It’s okay,” said Hongjoong again.

There was another beat of silence, and then Seonghwa asked, “Do you want me to come see you? I’ll pick you up at the corner by your building.”

“You don’t need to do that,” said Hongjoong. “You should be with your family, it’s Christmas Eve.” He laughed, and it sounded pathetic even to his own ears.

“Hongjoong, I’m coming,” said Seonghwa, voice firm. “Fifteen minutes, okay?”

“Okay,” said Hongjoong, not even trying to argue anymore. It was selfish of him but he wanted to see Seonghwa. “Thank you. You’re… you’re too good for me.”

“I’m not,” said Seonghwa. “I’m just happy I get to see you tonight. I’ll be there soon.”

Hongjoong hummed, and ended the call. Then he stared at his phone screen until it went black. He put on the coat he’d worn the last time he’d gone to see Seonghwa, that night he’d talked to Yeosang in the park, as well as a beanie to protect his ears. Then Hongjoong opened his bedroom door and walked out.

The second right after, the other door opened and Yunho appeared in the doorway.

He froze. Hongjoong fell still too. He felt guilty, like a criminal caught doing something he shouldn’t be doing. He stared at Yunho, expecting something—a pitying look, some sympathetic words, a pointed barb that from his lips would’ve crushed Hongjoong. But Yunho just shrunk back into his room, face still frozen in that same blank expression, and closed the door.

Hongjoong left the apartment.

For the first time, he got there early. He waited by the empty street, alone, his only company the yellow streetlight beside him and the snowflakes falling from above. He lost track of the seconds he tried to count before the familiar black car came down the icy road.

The car stopped nearby and before Hongjoong could enter Seonghwa climbed out and pulled him into a hug. Hongjoong stood still in his embrace before, finally, he relaxed and melted into his arms.

“Hey,” said Seonghwa. “You okay?” 

Hongjoong swallowed and nodded, holding him close. 

Chapter Text

Christmas was a strained, awkward affair.

Hongjoong spent most of it alone. He half wished he had work, actually eager to be out and interacting with that special brand of entitled customer that went out on Christmas rather than sitting alone in his room or in the living room flicking through channels that showed nothing but feel good family movies or emotional love stories. Yunho and San went out to hang out with their university friends in the afternoon, Yunho stopping briefly to pop his head into Hongjoong’s room and tell him they were heading out. Only after they were gone and the house was silent did Hongjoong realize just how alone he was.

He put the time into focusing on his art. Most of his works were in Seonghwa’s apartment and Hongjoong didn’t think it was a good idea to go there at the moment, but it didn’t matter. The one he wanted to work on was sitting on his bedroom floor.

San and Yunho came back some time after dark, and the three of them had dinner together. Last year San had been obsessed with the idea of a fully homemade Christmas dinner, and had forced the other two into spending a total five hours in the kitchen with him creating six dishes, of which only two were edible. This year they had takeout and leftovers from the night before.

It was quiet. The only sound in the air was the clack of cutlery against plates, the tick of the second hand on the clock. San pretended like Hongjoong didn’t exist. Yunho kept his eyes on his plate, eating fast and obviously desperate to escape the awkward atmosphere.

Halfway through the meal Hongjoong couldn’t take it anymore. “We can’t stay like this,” he said. “Are you seriously gonna pretend like I’m not here?”

Yunho glanced at Hongjoong, and then at San. San just kept on eating like he hadn’t heard anything.

“Come on,” said Hongjoong with a sigh. “How much longer can you ignore me?”

San put his chopsticks down, and for the first time that day looked Hongjoong in the eye. “I don’t know, hyung,” he said. “How long were you lying to us?”

“San, I’m sorry,” said Hongjoong. “I want to explain—”

“How about you tell me if I got anything wrong,” said San. “You’re dating Seonghwa-hyung, after you told me to stay away from Wooyoung. You’re letting him feed from you, when you forbid me from letting Wooyoung bite me. You’ve been doing it for months now, and you never told us. We literally had to confront you and wring the truth out. Anything I got wrong out of all that?”

Hongjoong shifted. “It’s… it’s not that simple…”

“Sure it isn’t,” said San bitingly. He pushed his plate away. “I’m done eating, and I’m going to bed. Good night, hyung.”

He got up and left the table. But just before he entered his room, he stopped and turned back. 

“Since we should be honest,” said San, “I have been letting Wooyoung drink from me. Sorry. Though I’m sure Seonghwa-hyung already told you by now.”

“San—” Hongjoong started, but San just walked into his room without a look back.

Hongjoong stared at the closed door, and then he groaned and ruffled his hair with both hands. That was not how it was supposed to go. He knew San was angry, but he wouldn’t even let Hongjoong talk. 

He took a deep breath, and then realized Yunho was still there. He hadn’t followed San. Hongjoong turned to him, half expecting him to get up or just put his head down and continue eating, but Yunho did neither.

Instead, he said, “Well?”

“Well what?” asked Hongjoong warily.

“You said you wanted to explain,” said Yunho. “I’m here. Explain.”

“You’re not…” Hongjoong ran a hand through his messy hair. “I don’t wanna get you mixed up in all this.”

“I’m kind of already mixed up, hyung,” said Yunho, and he sounded calm, steady. “Explain. From the start.”

But Yunho wasn’t in it, not as deep as San, as Hongjoong. He was friends with Yeosang, maybe Wooyoung, and that was it. Still, he was willing to listen, and Hongjoong needed someone to listen. He needed someone on his side.

“You know that night when we went to the vampire den?” Hongjoong waited for Yunho to nod. “I met Seonghwa then.”

“That’s when San met Wooyoung,” said Yunho.

“I didn’t know Seonghwa and Wooyoung knew each other,” said Hongjoong. “Not until San took me to meet Wooyoung and I saw Seonghwa there.”

“And that was when you guys started…” Yunho trailed off.

“Not exactly,” said Hongjoong, hesitating. “I think he—he was interested in me then, but we just… kind of became friends. Kind of. I don’t know. It was ambiguous.”

Yunho pursed his lips, but didn’t comment.

“And then… y’know… stuff happened,” said Hongjoong, uncomfortable.

There was a stretch of awkward silence, and then Yunho said, “You brought him to our house. Seonghwa-hyung.”

“Before the stuff happened,” said Hongjoong quickly. “It was around dawn, and Seonghwa needed somewhere to stay out of the sunlight. I couldn’t leave him out there.”

Yunho gave Hongjoong another long look and then said, “So you were kinda ambiguous friends with Seonghwa-hyung, but you still didn’t want San at his house.”

“That’s for another reason,” said Hongjoong. “It—Mingi’s there.”

Yunho tensed. “Mingi,” he repeated.

“He’s part of Seonghwa’s… household,” said Hongjoong. He hesitated, unsure if it was okay for him to tell Yunho all this, but he had to explain. “I don’t know if San’s told you about him, but he’s not safe to be around. He can’t be around people without attacking them. I’ll admit it, at first I was just being stupid and overprotective, but then I found out about him and—and I didn’t want San going there.”

Silence. Yunho said nothing. Not a single muscle on his face moved.

“I didn’t trust Wooyoung then to keep San safe, but I do now,” said Hongjoong. “And I know Seonghwa would never let anything happen to him.” He sighed. It was Yeosang he didn’t trust, and it had nothing to do with the fact that he was a vampire. Seonghwa was a vampire too after all, and he was one of the people Hongjoong trusted most in the world.

For some time Yunho didn’t say anything, seemingly thinking things over. And then he asked, “Why didn’t you tell us before?”

“I don’t know,” said Hongjoong helplessly. “At first it was because it wasn’t anything—anything concrete. And then I didn’t want to make things weird. And then, I don’t know, things got so deep and out of control, I was worried I’d lose everything…”

“Are you in love with him?”

Hongjoong froze. He looked at Yunho, words stuck on his tongue.

“Never mind,” said Yunho, shaking his head. “That’s between you guys, I shouldn’t have asked. I just don’t get why you didn’t tell us before. I don’t know why you had to lie to us.” 

The truth was, Hongjoong didn’t know either. For some reason he’d been convinced that San and Yunho finding out would be the end of everything. The end of his relationship with Seonghwa. 

He’d had no idea it meant so much to him.

“I’ll talk to San,” said Yunho, getting up. “I don’t know if it’ll help but I’ll tell him what you told me. It’s up to him if he’ll come out and talk to you.”

“Thank you,” said Hongjoong, and he really meant it. He sat still, thinking, and then called out, “Yunho.”

Yunho stopped from where he was halfway to his room. “Yeah?”

“I know you don’t really have a reason to trust me,” said Hongjoong. “But I think you should stay away from Yeosang a little. You, and San.”

Yunho shook his head. “There’s nothing wrong with Yeosang,” he said. “He’s not dangerous.” He paused a moment and then added, “And neither is Mingi.” 

He left, and Hongjoong was alone at the table with whatever remained of Christmas dinner.

He threw out the takeout containers, dumped the dishes in the sink for later. Then he went back to his room and lay down flat on the bed to stare at the ceiling. 

Hongjoong had never cared so much about holidays, but it didn’t escape his attention that it was Christmas and he’d never been further from the guys he considered his family. He rolled around a while, and then he got up and went back to the one thing that he could always escape into. 

When Hongjoong’s phone rang later, he almost didn’t notice. He got up and stretched as he picked it up from his bedside table, the muscles of his neck and back complaining angrily. Hongjoong glanced at the clock and realized with a start that he’d spent hours hunched over. Seonghwa would kill him if he knew. 

And of course no one else would be calling him. Hongjoong grinned as he picked up and said, “Hey. Finally awake?”

“It’s almost midnight,” said Seonghwa, and Hongjoong could hear the smile in his voice. “Sometimes I worry you don’t understand how time works.”

“That’s fair,” said Hongjoong. He paused, and then he said, “Merry Christmas, Peach.”

“Merry Christmas, Hongjoong,” returned Seonghwa, voice warm. Hongjoong let the warmth settle deep in his heart, then he went back to his spot on the floor, in front of the canvas he had propped up in the corner. 

It was almost done. Hongjoong could almost imagine the finished image, but even in his mind’s eye he could see there were details missing. He just didn’t know what. The entire canvas was a wash of colors but it still felt empty, lacking. Not good enough.

Seonghwa deserved the best. Hongjoong wanted to see him smile when he finally laid his eyes on the painting. 

“Hongjoong?”

“Hmm?” Hongjoong picked up his brush again, but didn’t set it on canvas. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with it.

“Are you okay?” asked Seonghwa, voice gentle. “Wooyoung says San is really upset.”

“Yeah.” Hongjoong put the brush back down. “He’s pretty much not talking to me.”

“I’m sorry,” said Seonghwa. “Should I call and talk to him?”

“That’s probably not a good idea,” said Hongjoong. “He’s mad at me and I don’t want him to take it out on you.” He paused. “How about you? Is everything okay there?”

“More or less,” said Seonghwa. “Wooyoung isn’t as upset with me as I’d expected, and Mingi’s more surprised than anything else. Jongho and Yeosang already knew beforehand.”

A little trickle of unease entered Hongjoong at the mention of Yeosang. “Peach,” he said, almost careful, “did Yeosang tell you that he talked to me the night I picked San up from that park?”

“Yes, he said he was there,” said Seonghwa. His voice sounded oddly clipped. Maybe he was also aware of Yeosang’s hidden nature.

The thought was comforting. “Did he tell you what we talked about?” asked Hongjoong.

“No, he only said that he hadn’t warned you,” said Seonghwa. When Hongjoong didn’t say anything, he explained, “That he could detect my venom in your blood, and Wooyoung would too.”

“Oh.” That was the least of Hongjoong’s concerns. Now that San knew, it didn’t matter how he found out. 

“Why?” asked Seonghwa. “What did you talk about?”

Hongjoong paused. He didn’t know how to state his misgivings without hurting Seonghwa. And when not even Yunho believed him when he said Yeosang was dangerous, would Seonghwa?

“I get the feeling he doesn’t like me,” he said finally. That was putting it so lightly the color of it was barely visible. 

“He will,” said Seonghwa without hesitation. “He doesn’t know you well enough yet, but he will.” He paused a moment, and then said, “Maybe it’s a good thing everyone knows now.”

“I would’ve told them,” said Hongjoong, feeling weirdly defensive. “Just later.”

“I know,” said Seonghwa. “Just… it’s all out in the open now, right? That’s not a bad thing. Hey, I can finally meet Yunho.”

Hongjoong snorted. “You already did, Peach,” he said. “He tried to knock you out with a plant, remember?”

“That wasn’t meeting,” insisted Seonghwa. “That was him trying to protect you and his home, which was actually pretty cute.”

“Cute? He could’ve done some serious damage if I hadn’t swooped in and saved you,” said Hongjoong. When Seonghwa laughed, Hongjoong said indignantly, “He’s pretty big, you know! I know he looks like a big puppy but he could take you on.”

“I’m a vampire, Hongjoong,” said Seonghwa, still obviously grinning. “You don’t need to worry about me.”

Hongjoong hummed. “And you don’t need to worry so much about me.”

“I—I like you too much to not worry.”

Seonghwa’s voice was sweet, small with shyness. The sound of it brought a smile to Hongjoong’s face. Every time he knew Seonghwa was smiling, that he was happy, everything else dissolved away. All of Hongjoong’s bad moods, his burdens and worries. They were nothing in comparison. 

He looked out the window and watched as the first snowflakes fell from the sky. “Hey,” said Hongjoong. “It’s snowing here.”

Seonghwa gasped softly. “It’s snowing here too,” he said. “It’s so beautiful.”

Hongjoong listened to Seonghwa’s voice soft in wonder, gaze washing over the slowly falling snow. He looked over at his unfinished painting. All at once a surge of emotions burst in his chest, filling him up from the inside, so strong he could feel it in his veins down to the tips of his fingers.

“Peach,” he said, picking up his brush again. “Would you mind staying on the line for some time? Keep talking.”

“Of course I’ll stay,” said Seonghwa, sounding surprised. “What should I talk about?”

“Anything you want,” said Hongjoong. He pulled out the white paint. “I just wanna hear your voice.”

“You—okay.” Seonghwa let out a small laugh of surprise. “Okay, Hongjoong.”

He started talking about his plants and how the cold was affecting them, and Hongjoong painted. 

 

Hongjoong chewed on his nail as he listened to the caller tone once, twice. Finally, on the third ring, the call was picked up.

“Peach, are you free right now?” he asked, as soon as he heard the click.

“What? Right now?” Seonghwa sounded taken aback. “I was just locking up the apartment.”

“Don’t,” said Hongjoong. “I’m coming over. Right now.”

“Why?” asked Seonghwa. “Hongjoong, is everything okay?” 

“Everything’s great,” said Hongjoong. He looked at the canvas wrapped in brown paper, all ready to be transported. “Just perfect.”

“Okay,” said Seonghwa slowly. “Should I go pick you up?”

“No need, I’m already on the way,” said Hongjoong, pulling on a beanie and wrapping a thick scarf around his neck. “See you.”

He ended the call before Seonghwa could protest, and then he tucked the wrapped painting under his left arm and walked out of his room.

Yunho was in the living room busy on his phone. He looked up as Hongjoong entered, eyebrows rising when he spotted the obvious package of brown paper. 

“Going out,” said Hongjoong as he stepped into a pair of boots. “I’ll be back.”

“Before midnight?” asked Yunho.

Hongjoong frowned, wondering why Yunho was asking about midnight, when he remembered. December 31st. It would be the new year.

He hesitated. San was already gone, saying he would do the countdown with Wooyoung. Hongjoong couldn’t leave Yunho alone.

Yunho seemed to read his mind, because he laughed and said, “Go. It’s cool.”

“Are you sure?” asked Hongjoong, unconvinced. He was willing to put off meeting Seonghwa until the next night if Yunho wanted his company. 

“Yeah, I’m sure,” said Yunho with a smile. “Dude, you’re already wearing your shoes. Just go.”

Hongjoong looked down at his boots, and then back up at Yunho. The painting was a solid weight under his arm. “I’ll try and come back before midnight,” he said.

“Don’t let me stop you from getting laid,” said Yunho, grinning.

“You’re spending way too much time with San,” said Hongjoong, shooting Yunho a look. He had to laugh though, and Yunho grinned back, making Hongjoong feel light.

It was freezing outside. The exposed parts of Hongjoong’s face, between the beanie and his scarf pulled up to his nose, were soon numb with cold. He walked down the street leading away from the apartment complex, half wishing he’d taken up Seonghwa’s offer of a ride. He would have to walk to the stop at the intersection to even hope to get a cab, or a bus if he had to.

He was walking down the quiet road when he saw someone coming down the opposite away.

At first Hongjoong didn’t pay much attention, more worried about a sudden snowfall soaking his wrapping paper. But the closer the other got, the more Hongjoong found his gaze returning to the approaching figure.

It was a man, taller than Hongjoong, built slender. He was wearing a thin coat, much thinner than Hongjoong’s lined and padded jacket, and yet he seemed unbothered in the frigid December night air. He had a scarf wrapped around the lower half of his face, but other than that hardly seemed to mark the cold at all. He walked easily. He wore no hat, no gloves.

Like he couldn’t feel cold. Like Seonghwa.

Hongjoong tensed. Instinctively he held the wrapped canvas closer to his body. The nerves in his body were pulled taut, ready to snap at any moment. 

The man got closer and closer, and yes, Hongjoong could see now that his face was not flushed with cold, his fingertips were as white as the rest of his hands…

They were just going to cross each other when the man said, voice muffled by the scarf, “Excuse me.”

Hongjoong fought the instinctive flinch. Instead he turned and said, “Yes?”

“I’m afraid I’m lost,” said the other. He looked older than Hongjoong from what could be seen of his face, by at least a dozen or so years. “Would you mind showing me the way to the nearest bus stop?”

Hongjoong regarded him. The bus stop was in the direction the man had come from. He had to have passed it on his way here. 

“Don’t,” said Hongjoong finally. 

The other’s brow furrowed. “I’m sorry, I don’t—”

“I know what you are,” said Hongjoong, surprised at how steady his voice was. “Literally don’t. You try anything on me and I promise my vampire boyfriend will find you.” 

The vampire’s eyes went wide, and he took a step back. Hongjoong didn’t hesitate, turning on his heel and walking forward at a brisk pace. He half expected to feel someone grab him from behind, force his head to the side and sink fangs into his soft throat. It had been an empty threat after all. There was no guarantee Seonghwa would ever find this vampire, or that Hongjoong would even put that burden on him.

But no one grabbed Hongjoong. It seemed the threat had been enough.

Only when Hongjoong was safe in the warm interior of a cab did he take a deep, shuddering breath. He had no idea what he’d just escaped. The vampire might’ve just bitten him and left him to wake up by the side of the road, if Hongjoong would even survive lying unconscious in the cold for hours. Or he could’ve been one of those stories people passed around in whispers, of how someone’s classmate’s friend’s brother had been found dead, drained of blood, how the police had taken away the body and buried it quietly in a closed casket service. There were more than a few of those stories, and no one knew if they were true, or if there were more that never saw the light. 

Hongjoong shuddered. He kept a hand on the painting as the cab made its way through Seoul’s glittering streets, now blurred through a light curtain of falling snow. He was okay, nothing had happened. There was no reason to freak out and worry himself or, worse, Seonghwa. 

There was a lot of traffic, and Hongjoong arrived at Seonghwa’s apartment building later than he’d planned. He rang the doorbell, keeping the wrapped painting under his arm as he waited.

Seonghwa opened the door in a plain white button down and his bangs falling over his forehead, looking more confused than pleased. “You came,” he said. “What’s going on?”

In response, Hongjoong held the canvas up in front of him. “I have something for you.”

The change on Seonghwa’s face was one of the most beautiful things Hongjoong had ever seen. His eyes widened in surprise, and then he relaxed, smile blooming, pale face taken over with warmth and excitement.

“Is that…?” Seonghwa raised his eyebrows. “It’s done?”

“It’s done,” said Hongjoong, grinning. “But if you want me to go…”

Seonghwa wrapped an arm around Hongjoong’s waist and pulled him into the apartment with a strength Hongjoong couldn’t imagine resisting even if he’d wanted to. It was warm inside, just the temperature Hongjoong liked. He pulled his hat off and set the painting down for a moment while he took off his scarf and coat. 

“You should’ve told me beforehand,” said Seonghwa. “I talked to you last night and you didn’t say you were done.”

“I wasn’t then,” said Hongjoong. He tried to sound casual, but it was really hard when Seonghwa was like this, nearly bouncing with how eager he was, hovering around Hongjoong. 

Just like that, whatever jitters Hongjoong had had about the vampire he’d met on the street disappeared, like the encounter had never even happened. It was the effect of Seonghwa’s smile. 

“I can’t believe it,” said Seonghwa, voice bright and bursting with excitement. “You really did it. I didn’t think you’d finish it so soon. Not that I don’t think you worked hard on it—I know you worked hard on it—but it is art after all and I know these things can’t be rushed and—”

Hongjoong laughed. “Can you relax for a second?”

Seonghwa stopped, looking so offended it was adorable. “I’m sorry for being excited about my painting.”

“See it first, before you decide you like it, okay?” said Hongjoong.

“I’ll love it,” said Seonghwa, certain. 

His confidence was reassuring. Hongjoong kissed Seonghwa on the lips briefly, because he knew Seonghwa would like it and because he wanted to, and then he took the finished painting wrapped in brown paper into the room he’d made his studio.

“It works in both bright and warm lighting,” said Hongjoong, switching on all the lights in the room. The bright bulbs came to life at once, harsh after the gentle lighting of the front room. “But I want you to be able to pick out all the details the first time you see it.”

“Okay,” said Seonghwa, as Hongjoong put away his unfinished works and looked for an easel of the right size. “You know I don’t know anything about art, right? So I’m sorry but I won’t be able to praise you like you deserve.”

Hongjoong set up the easel and turned around to face Seonghwa. He didn’t even flinch when he saw him shining bone white under the fluorescent light. “You don’t need to tell me everything with all the proper technical words,” he said. “I just want you to like it, Peach.”

“I will,” said Seonghwa, perfectly sincere in that way only he could be.

Hongjoong smiled, and then motioned to Seonghwa to close his eyes.

Seonghwa did, and even covered them with his hands for good measure. He looked so precious Hongjoong took a moment to smile before he started unwrapping the canvas.

“I haven’t had a painting commissioned in years,” said Seonghwa. “I don’t think I’ve ever had one commissioned ever, really. Taehee-noona was the one who was interested in the arts.”

Hongjoong tried to ignore the slinking rise of displeasure at the name. He didn’t like Seonghwa’s maker, despite all that she had done for Seonghwa, which Hongjoong felt a little bad about but not too bad because she was gone and he wouldn’t need to be nice to her, just gracious about her memory. He could do that. 

He also didn’t like to think about why he didn’t like Taehee. Hongjoong wasn’t a jealous person, and he was definitely not jealous of a dead woman who Seonghwa might not even have loved romantically. Definitely. He put the thought out of his mind and instead focused on his task.

He peeled off the paper, set the painting on the easel. Then he adjusted it, made sure it caught the light just right, so that every detail came through perfectly clear. When Hongjoong was sure it was positioned just right, he stepped to one side and said, “You can open your eyes.”

Seonghwa lowered his hands, and his gaze fell on the canvas in front of him. Hongjoong stood where he was as Seonghwa slowly approached the painting, eyes never leaving it. 

“It’s beautiful,” said Seonghwa.

Hongjoong felt a rush of pleasure in his chest. It was beautiful. The overwhelming color scheme of the painting was blue, a variety of shades ranging from cobalt to sapphire to azure, with edges of pale gold and soft amber that provided a soothing contrast. There was white too, like falling snow, like a map of stars, dotted throughout a dark canvas of subtle shades and careful color work. It was a beautiful painting, easily the best Hongjoong had ever done.

“It’s amazing, Hongjoong,” said Seonghwa, sounding awed. Hongjoong could see his eyes trace the outline hidden in the colors. “What—what is it?”

Hongjoong frowned. Wasn’t it obvious? “It’s you,” he said. 

Seonghwa looked up at him. His lips parted, but he said nothing.

Hongjoong moved to stand next to him and, yes, from here he could see where he’d created the image of Seonghwa’s face in the painting, the curve of his eyebrow, the line of his mouth, the sharp cut of his jawline. And he could see everything else in the painting that was Seonghwa—the multitude of glittering stars, the nebula of azure and sapphire, the galaxy itself.

“You’re not just a planet, Seonghwa,” said Hongjoong quietly.

He was so, so much more. He was beautiful, otherworldly almost, but still so steadying and loving. Like the night laid out above. 

Seonghwa was not a planet. He was the brightest star in the sky. 

Hongjoong waited for him to say something, but he didn’t. When the silence stretched too long, Hongjoong turned to him to see his reaction, and froze.

Seonghwa was crying.

“Seonghwa,” said Hongjoong, taken aback, and Seonghwa started. He blinked rapidly in surprise, and started rubbing at his face with both hands, hurriedly wiping the tears away.

“Sorry,” he said, voice thick. “Sorry, I—please excuse me a moment.”

Before Hongjoong could say anything, Seonghwa turned and rushed out of the room. Hongjoong stood, rooted to the spot. He glanced at the painting sitting on the easel. He thought Seonghwa liked it, but then why did he cry? 

Slowly, cautiously, Hongjoong walked out of the room. He saw the light on in Seonghwa’s bedroom and found him there, standing before the bed with his back turned to the door, arms wrapped around himself.

“Hey,” said Hongjoong softly, and Seonghwa went still. “Hey, Peach, you okay?”

“I’m fine,” said Seonghwa, but his voice quivered. “Just—give me a moment. I’m fine.”

Hongjoong entered the room carefully. “If you really thought the painting sucked, you could just say so,” he said jokingly, trying to lift the mood. 

“No,” said Seonghwa at once, turning around. “No, I—I love it. Thank you. It’s beautiful.”

His face was wet, and his eyes still glistened with tears. Hongjoong hated seeing Seonghwa like this, and part of him wished he could just run away and pretend like he never had. But he couldn’t leave Seonghwa. Hongjoong wasn’t good with feelings and he’d never comforted anyone through tears, but he had to make things better.

So he walked up to Seonghwa and wrapped his arms around him and held him close. Seonghwa relaxed in his embrace and held him too, burying his face in Hongjoong’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” said Seonghwa, voice muffled. “I’m sorry I ruined this. I really do love the painting, Hongjoong, thank you.”

“You didn’t ruin anything,” said Hongjoong. “Do you wanna tell me what’s wrong?”

Seonghwa didn’t answer, only held Hongjoong like he needed him to live.

They stood like that a while, until Hongjoong finally pulled away. But he only went as far as he needed to take Seonghwa’s hand in his and pull him along to the bed. Hongjoong sat at the edge and sat Seonghwa close against his side, letting his head rest on his shoulder. He took his hand in his. 

Silence fell, only broken by Hongjoong’s steady breathing. Seonghwa had stopped crying and now sat still, head leaning on Hongjoong’s shoulder.

Hongjoong knew he should ask Seonghwa what had made him cry so much, but he didn’t know what to say and he didn’t want to make things worse. So he just sat there, silent, hoping his presence was at least some comfort. 

“Did I ever tell you how she died?”

Hongjoong stiffened. He hated that he did, because he knew Seonghwa felt it, but it had been a reflex and it was too late to take it back now. He forced his body to relax and said, “No.”

“It was over twenty years ago,” said Seonghwa, voice quiet. “I don’t remember everything leading up to it. But after, when I knew… I’ll never forget a moment of that.”

His fingers were linked through with Hongjoong’s. Hongjoong placed his other hand over Seonghwa’s, wrapping its coldness in his warmth.

“She went out to see a friend,” continued Seonghwa. “She did that often. She had a lot of friends, particularly for a vampire, and I was not familiar with all of them. I stayed home. I thought nothing of it when she didn’t return that night.”

Hongjoong didn’t speak, only waited for more.

“The next night I woke to find Wonshik-nim waiting for me,” said Seonghwa. His voice was flat, devoid of all emotion. “He drove me to his coven’s house. And that’s when I—I saw her.”

Hongjoong swallowed. He squeezed Seonghwa’s hand in his.

“Many things can kill a vampire,” said Seonghwa, relaxed almost. It was painful to hear. “Prolonged exposure to sunlight. Silver. But regular injuries too, if they’re severe enough, if you can’t drink blood to heal yourself.” A pause, a breath. “She’d fallen from the roof of a building. There was no chance of surviving.”

She fell from a rooftop? The thought sprouted in Hongjoong’s brain immediately, and he threw it aside as soon as it appeared, disgusted with himself. He sat silent, holding Seonghwa’s hand tight and willing his horrible thoughts away.

“I know what you’re thinking.” Seonghwa’s voice was hollow. “You can say it. Many did, some to my face, others behind my back. It’s okay, I know what it sounds like.”

Hongjoong’s heart wrenched in his chest. “Seonghwa…”

“But it’s not,” said Seonghwa, and now Hongjoong could hear the strain in his voice, the hurt. “It can’t be. She wouldn’t—she couldn’t have left me, she loved me and—and we were happy, she wouldn’t have—”

Hongjoong turned, wrapping his arms around Seonghwa and holding him close. He closed his eyes and waited, taking deep, long breaths. Seonghwa was so still in his arms, so small tucked in under his chin. Hongjoong had held him like this only once before, in the ferris wheel, because Seonghwa was scared of heights—

Hongjoong swallowed. He ran his fingers through Seonghwa’s hair, just like he had before.

“I know she didn’t.” Seonghwa’s voice was tiny in the silence. “But—but I still wondered, maybe she didn’t love me like I loved her, maybe I wasn’t—I wasn’t—”

“Don’t even think that,” said Hongjoong fiercely. His voice was rough and scratchy, and he swallowed hard. “Don’t. She didn’t—she didn’t do that, she wouldn’t leave you. You are so—so precious, so perfect.”

Maybe that wasn’t the right thing to say. Maybe Hongjoong should’ve said Taehee’s choice had nothing to do with Seonghwa or her love for him, that sometimes things were so hard only love wasn’t enough no matter how much you had of it. But he just needed to make Seonghwa feel better. Hongjoong was lost in the middle of a storm, desperately searching for something that might help while his heart sank deeper than he’d ever thought possible, tied to the anchor of Seonghwa’s pain. 

For some time Seonghwa was quiet, an unmoving weight in Hongjoong’s embrace. Then he said, “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to say sorry,” said Hongjoong. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I just dumped all that on you. I don’t know why. I’m sorry.”

“I told you, don’t say sorry,” said Hongjoong. “If it helped you, it’s good. I’m glad. I was worried about you, Peach.” 

“I don’t know what happened to me,” said Seonghwa. “Looking at the painting and knowing that’s how you saw me, that’s what I seemed like to you—I was suddenly overwhelmed. It felt like—like I was something special, like I was loved.”

Hongjoong took a deep breath. “You are.”

Seonghwa pulled away from Hongjoong’s embrace to look up at him. His eyes were focused and wet with unshed tears. His lips were the reddest Hongjoong had ever seen. 

Without thinking Hongjoong raised a hand and rested it against Seonghwa’s cheek, and all of a sudden he was back to months ago, when they’d stood outside Hongjoong’s apartment in the chilly night air and he’d given Seonghwa his gift and kissed him for the first time.

Hongjoong leaned forward and kissed Seonghwa.

Soft, sweet, laden with emotion. When they parted Hongjoong saw a light in Seonghwa’s eyes that hadn’t been there before, and it spread warmth in his chest, through his blood. He took Seonghwa’s face in both hands and kissed him again, and again, and again. Seonghwa slid his hand into Hongjoong’s hair and pulled him close and tight against his mouth, kissing him long and deep. 

Outside the snow had stopped, and the sky was alight with a million shining stars. 

Chapter Text

One of Jongho’s favorite hobbies was watching documentaries. 

He watched all kinds. He found out about how factories worked, what different countries did to fight pollution, what was out in the vast expanse of space. Any kind of documentary out there, Jongho would give it a try. Something to do with his childhood, he decided. The TV they had at the orphanage was invariably tuned into some documentary or the other—they thought it was educational. Jongho was probably the only kid there that actually enjoyed them. 

Although he’d watch any kind, Jongho had a special place in his heart for nature documentaries. 

Seeing animals in nature was utterly fascinating to him. There were so many species out there, millions upon millions, all different in so many ways. And yet every single one of them had a place for them. Even the tiniest, most insignificant creature had a place in the huge ecosystem of life, some niche they occupied just right. 

Sometimes Jongho found himself thinking about his niche.

Seonghwa went out on the night of the thirty first, and he didn’t come back. Gone to clean up his apartment, he said, and then he just didn’t return. Hours later he sent Jongho a brief text saying that he was busy. He’d come back the next night. 

“It’s okay,” said Yeosang, smiling. “We’ll do that corny countdown without him.”

Jongho looked at Yeosang’s forced smile and said nothing. Wooyoung was out doing the countdown with San, and had already told them not to wait up for him. 

Yeosang asked Mingi if he wanted to join, but apparently his human boyfriend was alone at home and wanted to video call him through the start of the year, and they let him be. He spent a lot of time online with that human, and seemed to be close to him, talking to him or about him all the time with a big smile on his face. Jongho saw how it could be sweet. Mingi had been dealt a bad hand by life but he’d adjusted well. He was a broken thing, but endearing.  

So Jongho and Yeosang sat outside on the lawn and watched the fireworks. And there was something so strange about it, sitting beside a silent Yeosang as the sky lit up with a thousand colors. Not lonely, but something like it, like an emotion that was supposed to last forever but he could already see the edge of. 

Jongho glanced at Yeosang. The blond vampire was the most similar to Jongho in the house. Of course Jongho loved Seonghwa, and Wooyoung was fun if too much sometimes, and he didn’t hate Mingi, not really. But Yeosang was the one Jongho related most to. Yeosang understood Jongho. He knew what it meant to have a finite supply of love, to be careful with it, to know that hardly anyone was worth opening up to. Like the beautiful iridescent beetles that lived in the soft earth of the forest, Yeosang had an exoskeleton. His bones were a shell on the outside.

Jongho knew he would never be Yeosang’s favorite, and he was okay with it. It was Yeosang and Wooyoung. Jongho knew if Wooyoung wanted to leave, Yeosang would too in a heartbeat. After all, it had always been Yeosang and Wooyoung, and always would be.

But suddenly it didn’t feel like Yeosang and Wooyoung anymore. And Jongho didn’t know what would happen now.

He could see Yeosang’s shell crumbling bit by bit right in front of him. But it wasn’t just a shell, it was an exoskeleton, the thing that gave him shape and held him up. Jongho didn’t know how much longer he had before Yeosang changed into somebody else. The fireworks exploding overhead felt like the chime of a clock that couldn’t be stopped.

“Happy new year,” said Yeosang. 

“Happy new year,” Jongho said back. 

Then he raised his head and watched the winter sky burst with light, thinking of how quickly everything changed, in nature and in life. 

 

“You’re strong, right?”

Jongho blinked, not knowing how to answer.

“Come on,” said Mingi, frowning. “Yes or no.”

He loomed like a tower in front of the bed, and Jongho got the feeling this wasn’t a brief conversation. He put away his phone. “Define strong,” he said.

Now Mingi looked a little uncomfortable. “Like, stronger than me?” he said, uncertain.

“Than you? Definitely,” said Jongho. 

“Yeah, I know that,” grumbled Mingi. “But, like, how much? If I went—if I used all my strength, literally everything I had, could you still…?” 

“Still beat you up?” Jongho raised an eyebrow. “Wanna try?”

“No way,” said Mingi quickly. He took a step back too, just in case, and Jongho had to laugh.

“I was just kidding,” said Jongho. “Why are you asking me?”

“Just curious,” said Mingi, but it didn’t look like it was just curiosity. He chewed his lower lip, shifted awkwardly. It was uncomfortable to watch. 

“Just tell me already,” said Jongho, sighing.

But it still took Mingi at least a few minutes more of hesitation before he finally cracked.

“If I went crazy, could you hold me back?” asked Mingi.

Jongho stared, taken aback. “Like crazy crazy?”

Mingi nodded.

“At your absolute feral state, crazed with bloodlust?” Jongho paused. “Yes.”

“Are you sure?” Mingi didn’t look totally convinced.

Jongho used to crush the metal of doorknobs before he learned how to control the strength he’d gained from vampirism. “I’m sure,” he said. “I’d be more worried about you. If you’re crazed enough you might break bones trying to get free.”

“That doesn’t matter,” said Mingi dismissively. “I just need to know you wouldn’t let go of me.”

“Not even if you broke bones,” said Jongho, completely serious.

And Mingi looked pleased. “Okay, thanks. Just needed to know.”

He turned to leave, but Jongho grabbed his wrist. “You’re not thinking of doing something stupid, are you?” he asked. 

“No way,” said Mingi.

Mingi had to be the worst liar Jongho had ever seen. He made even Wooyoung look like a master. Jongho didn’t call him out though, only said, “If you hurt someone, Seonghwa-hyung will be really upset.”  

“Never,” said Mingi, and he was definitely sincere about this one. “I won’t hurt anyone.”

Jongho gave him a long look, and then let go of his wrist.

“Thanks, Jongho,” said Mingi. He moved to leave again, when he stopped. “Hey, do you wanna talk to Yunho?” he asked. “He might be online.”

“That was sudden,” said Jongho, surprised. “Why?”

Mingi shrugged. “Just realized you were the only one who hasn’t talked to him yet,” he said. He hesitated. “Well, except Seonghwa-hyung, but he… uh…”

Jongho considered it. He knew Mingi’s boyfriend had become friends with Yeosang, and knew Wooyoung. Jongho wasn’t really interested in making new friends, but he was aware of being edged out, left out, and he didn’t like it. So he shrugged and said, “Sure.”

So Mingi video called his boyfriend, said a few things before turning the camera to face Jongho. Jongho put on a smile and introduced himself.

“It’s great to finally meet you.” Mingi’s boyfriend had a handsome face and a bright smile that looked completely genuine. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“Same to you,” said Jongho. “Mingi-hyung literally won’t shut up about you, every minute it’s Yunho this, Yunho that—”

“Okay, I think that’s enough getting to know each other,” said Mingi quickly, with the fakest laugh possible. 

Jongho laughed, and he heard Yunho laugh too. “Aww, no, Ming, put him back on,” said Yunho. “I wanna hear this.”

“No you don’t, he’s totally lying,” said Mingi. He shot Jongho a glare, only making Jongho laugh again. Mingi stomped out of the room, complaining to Yunho as he left.

Once he was gone, Jongho settled into his pillows in the quiet. Mingi really liked Yunho. It was obvious even to someone like Jongho. Mingi liked Yunho enough to consider doing something stupid, something he hadn’t tried in over five years, and Jongho wondered if it would work.

Even Mingi was changing. Mingi, who was supposed to be a broken thing like Jongho, was changing, leaving their old existence behind, shifting their climate into something new.

Jongho stared at the ceiling and wondered how long evolution took. 

 

Mingi was upstairs watching a movie, Yeosang out on one of his solitary walks. So it was only Jongho who was there when Wooyoung walked up to the sofa, threw himself over Seonghwa’s shoulders and asked, “Have you ever thought about turning someone?”

“What?” Seonghwa frowned and shifted, but didn’t push Wooyoung off. “Turning someone into a vampire? Who?”

“Just,” said Wooyoung innocently. “You’re old—”

“Excuse me?” Seonghwa scoffed.

“Old,” repeated Wooyoung, even louder and now grinning wide. “You could probably turn someone, easy.”

“Well…” Seonghwa shifted, and Wooyoung let go to sit beside him on the sofa. “It’s not that simple.”

“What’s hard about it?” asked Wooyoung, looking genuinely curious. “I thought it’d be nothing for you, you’re like two hundred and you can get enough blood for a newborn.”

“It’s not just about age and blood,” said Seonghwa. “Taehee-noona said it was really hard on her mind, forming that bond.”

Now Jongho stopped even pretending to be busy. He was always interested in hearing stories of Seonghwa’s maker. It was fascinating in a strange way, hearing of such a loving bond between someone and their maker. 

Taehee had actually loved Seonghwa. Jongho wondered what that was like.

“I have a blood bond with Yeosang,” said Wooyoung. “It’s never been hard for me or him.”

“That’s different,” said Seonghwa. “You didn’t turn him. Neither of you can have that complete control over each other.”

He stopped, and glanced at Jongho. Jongho didn’t say or do anything in response, keeping his face completely straight.

Seonghwa turned back to Wooyoung. “There’s a reason most vampires don’t turn anyone,” he said. “The ones that do rarely turn more than one or two.”

“Yeah but you could, right, if you really wanted to?” asked Wooyoung.

“If I really wanted to?” Seonghwa frowned. “Why do you ask?”

“Just curious,” said Wooyoung, looking perfectly innocent. 

Jongho wasn’t fooled, and neither was Seonghwa. “Woo,” he said quietly. “You haven’t even known Sannie a year.”

“Why are you bringing up San?” cried Wooyoung. “I was just curious.”

“Don’t be too curious,” said Seonghwa. “Don’t float the idea around San either. I don’t want him even thinking about it. He’s still young and healthy.”

Jongho had been young and healthy too. But he hadn’t turned to escape death, only loneliness. 

“Damn, don’t worry, I won’t,” said Wooyoung with a huff. “Don’t go tell on me to Hongjoong.”

Seonghwa stiffened. “Woo—”

“No, it’s cool,” said Wooyoung. “You can date and bone and whatever. It’s not like you’d stop if I asked you anyway.” 

Jongho watched Seonghwa shift awkwardly at that but say nothing. No, Seonghwa wouldn’t stop. He loved Hongjoong. 

Hongjoong was pretty. He seemed a little cracked, not yet broken but just cracked enough to fix, and the light caught the edges wonderfully.

“But you should know you guys really messed up with San,” continued Wooyoung. “He’s really mad.”

“Yeah, Hongjoong says he won’t even talk to him,” said Seonghwa. He gave Wooyoung a hopeful look. “If you could maybe convince San…?”

Wooyoung snorted. “You’re on your own,” he said. “I kinda agree with San, honestly. You should’ve just told us.”

“Hongjoong had his reasons,” said Seonghwa.

“Like what?” asked Jongho quietly.

Seonghwa turned but he didn’t say anything, only looked at him. 

“Why didn’t he want anyone to know?” asked Jongho. “I don’t understand.”

He really didn’t, but people did and felt all sorts of things that went over Jongho’s head, and he found it difficult to parse other people’s emotions sometimes. So he expected an answer, an explanation beyond the one that seemed obvious to Jongho.

But Seonghwa didn’t give him one. He just looked at Jongho, and bit his lower lip. 

“So you agree,” said Wooyoung. “You also think Hongjoong messed up.”

“He did make mistakes,” said Seonghwa. “But I think San should at least be willing to hear him out. Hongjoong loves him so much.”

“Well, it’s between them, I’m not getting involved,” said Wooyoung. He stood up and stretched, and looked at Seonghwa. “You shouldn’t either, hyung.”

Seonghwa didn’t look happy, but he nodded.

Wooyoung left, going back upstairs. Jongho stayed where he was on the couch. Seonghwa looked lost in thought, staring off into space for a few seconds before he snapped out of it. He caught Jongho looking, and smiled at him before going back to his tablet. 

He looked like he’d completely forgotten his earlier conversation with Wooyoung about turning. Hongjoong had a tendency of doing that to him, Jongho had realized. The longer Seonghwa spent with him, the less he cared about anything and anybody else.

Jongho watched him, but he didn’t see Seonghwa sitting opposite him on the couch, scrolling through something on his screen. He saw Seonghwa curled up in his bed, heartbroken and crying into a raccoon plush. 

Not for the first time Jongho wondered if it would’ve been better if things had ended there.

 

Seonghwa might have forgotten about Wooyoung’s seemingly innocent questions about turning, but Jongho didn’t. And neither did Wooyoung.

His questions seemed unrelated at first glance. He asked Seonghwa about his bond with his maker Taehee, how strong it had been, if it had gone both ways. He asked Mingi what his first memory after turning had been. He asked Jongho how long his newborn haze had lasted. 

“I don’t know,” said Jongho. 

“How can you not know?” asked Wooyoung. “Come on.”

“Wooyoung,” said Seonghwa sharply. 

It was unusual for Seonghwa to sound so harsh, and Wooyoung immediately fell silent. But Jongho shrugged and said, “I don’t have a good grasp of the time before Jihyun left. A side-effect of the grip she had in my head, I guess.”

Wooyoung looked chastised. “Sorry,” he said. 

Jongho just shrugged again. He didn’t think he was worth pitying.

Wooyoung raised his head in the way that meant Yeosang was close. And sure enough a few seconds later Yeosang came down, pleasant smile on his face. Jongho was on the sofa opposite the long couch Seonghwa and Wooyoung shared, so Yeosang took the single seat off to one side. 

Seonghwa looked at Yeosang and smiled. He’d been mad at him before, upset that Yeosang hadn’t warned Hongjoong that Wooyoung would be able to smell the truth on him, but he’d forgiven him soon after. Seonghwa forgave everyone so easily. It was another thing about him Jongho couldn’t understand. 

“Yeosangie,” said Wooyoung, as soon as he sat down. “How long were you a dumb newborn?”

“Around two months,” answered Yeosang. 

“That’s barely any time at all,” said Wooyoung. “So if you turned a vampire you’d only need to look after them for like two months.”

“Why are you talking about turning again?” asked Seonghwa with a sigh. “Really, Wooyoung, get curious about something else now.”

“Again?” Yeosang’s voice was quiet.

Jongho looked at him, but Yeosang didn’t notice. His gaze was fixed on Wooyoung, the look in his eyes impossible to decipher. 

Wooyoung didn’t hear Yeosang at all. “Come on, isn’t it kinda cool?” he asked, poking at Seonghwa. “You feed someone a bit of blood and, bam, they’re immortal!”

“You don’t just feed them blood,” said Seonghwa. “There’s a whole process.”

“Yeah, but you can do it,” said Wooyoung. 

“Well, yes,” said Seonghwa, hesitating. “But it’s like I said, it’s not that easy…”

Seonghwa continued talking, but Jongho stopped paying attention to him, or to Wooyoung beside him, who kept interrupting and asking questions.

His eyes were on Yeosang. Yeosang who didn’t move, only sat and watched Wooyoung with stormy eyes. He could’ve been a statue, made of marble set and carved by a master, with his hands folded in his lap, his back straight. The only part of him that moved was his chest, rising and falling rhythmically.

Yeosang was breathing. Something he did only when he was distressed.

Jongho watched him and thought of a dying beetle.

Without warning Yeosang stood. Wooyoung looked up at the movement, and frowned. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“I forgot something upstairs,” said Yeosang, and his voice was stiff, brittle. 

Before Wooyoung could respond, Yeosang had already turned and was heading towards the stairs. Jongho saw Wooyoung ready to get up and follow, and stood first. “I think maybe I’ll talk to him,” he said.

Wooyoung didn’t look happy, eyes fixed on Yeosang as he stiffly walked off and up the stairs, but he nodded. Jongho went off after Yeosang.

He climbed halfway up the stairs and stopped when he realized Yeosang was still in the hallway at the top. Jongho waited for him to go back to his room, but Yeosang didn’t move. He just hovered there, arms wrapped around himself like he desperately needed the comfort, staring at the blank wall and taking heaving breaths.

Finally Jongho climbed the remaining stairs and said, quietly, “Hyung.”

Yeosang whipped his head around and immediately straightened. “Jongho,” he said, voice straining with the effort to sound casual. “What is it?”

“What’s wrong?” asked Jongho.

“Nothing,” said Yeosang, and if Jongho hadn’t witnessed what he’d been like just seconds ago he might’ve believed him. “Is everything okay with you? You’ve been quiet recently.”

But Jongho wouldn’t let the conversation get derailed. He paused, trying to find the right way to approach. Finally, he said, very calmly and in a low voice, “Seonghwa-hyung wouldn’t do it.”

“Do what?” asked Yeosang. 

“Turn San,” said Jongho.

He expected Yeosang to deny knowing what he was talking about, or tense up, or maybe even ignore him. But he didn’t. He just stared at Jongho, eyes almost pale gold in the light and laden with emotions.

And then Yeosang said, “It doesn’t matter,” and he crumbled in front of Jongho.

He didn’t cry. He didn’t look near tears; his face hardly changed at all. But his eyes. All at once Jongho could see everything in them, everything Yeosang had been hiding all this time, the hurt, the desperation, the despair. Jongho nearly took a step back from the force of it.

The silence that fell over the two of them felt like a vacuum. Jongho broke it, saying, “San won’t turn.”

“He will,” said Yeosang. “Seonghwa loves him, he’d want nothing more than to be blood bonded with him.”

Jongho said nothing to that. Seonghwa did love San. San was bright and lovely, bursting with feeling and sweetness where Jongho was dried up and broken. Seonghwa would be a loving maker, San his perfect blood child. 

“He’ll turn him in the end,” continued Yeosang. “He’ll turn him, and San will never die and he and Wooyoung will be together, forever.” 

“Him and Wooyoung-hyung won’t be blood bonded,” said Jongho. “Not like you and him—”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Yeosang, shaking his head. “It doesn’t matter. Wooyoung wants to spend eternity with San. What is our blood bond compared to that? He—he’s in love with San, he’s not—he won’t—what am I supposed to do?”

Jongho stared at Yeosang, at his eyes swimming with pain, his heaving chest, and everything clicked into place.

“You’re in love with him,” he said.

Yeosang turned away. He didn’t deny it.

Just like that, everything made sense. Jongho had been right in thinking Yeosang was jealous of San, he just hadn’t realized the root of it. Yeosang wasn’t upset that San had stolen Wooyoung’s time or affection, or that he’d distanced Wooyoung from him.

Yeosang was in love with Wooyoung.

Jongho had never known. He didn’t think Wooyoung did either.

He took a moment, watching Yeosang the entire time. “He does love you,” said Jongho finally.

“Not in the same way,” said Yeosang. 

You don’t know that, Jongho wanted to say, but the truth was Jongho didn’t know that either.

“San will turn,” said Yeosang, voice hollow. “He’ll turn, and move in, and he and Wooyoung will spend eternity together.”

Jongho paused. “What will you do?”

Yeosang looked up at him, gold eyes empty. “There won’t be any space for me here.”

“No,” said Jongho at once. “You can’t go.” Not Yeosang, he couldn’t leave, it wouldn’t be their coven without Yeosang—

“I can’t stay,” said Yeosang. “I can’t live here and watch him be with San, watch them be in love knowing that whatever chance I might’ve had is dead and buried and won’t ever come back. I won’t do that to myself.”

He looked so determined, and so hurt. Jongho didn’t think anything he could say would change his mind. Yeosang would leave. 

Their coven would be over.

“Don’t go before then,” said Jongho in a small voice.

Yeosang smiled, but it was sad. “I won’t,” he said. “Don’t worry, Jongho. No matter what happens, you’ll always have a place here.”

He reached out and squeezed Jongho’s shoulder before opening the door to his room and entering without a look back. Jongho was left standing alone in the silent hallway. 

 

It took time to get Wooyoung alone. Wooyoung was always with someone no matter what time of the night it was, either out with his friends or with San, or watching a movie with Seonghwa or playing games with Mingi. Jongho had to wait until it was a few hours before dawn when Wooyoung returned home from a night out with human friends, and ambushed him before he entered his room.

“Hyung,” said Jongho, stepping neatly in front of him. “Can I talk to you about something?”

“Sure,” said Wooyoung. He was grinning brightly, still pumped from hours of club music and dancing.

Jongho had never been the type to beat around the bush. “Are you serious about turning San?”

“What?” Wooyoung let out a surprised laugh that was painfully transparent. “Who said anything about turning San?”

It would’ve been more difficult to see through clear glass. Jongho wanted to push more, push harder until Wooyoung cracked, but he held himself back. Instead he said, “What about Yeosang-hyung?”

Wooyoung frowned. “Yeosang?”

He really didn’t know. Jongho wasn’t surprised, but he had still needed to confirm. “Never mind,” he said. “Why don’t you just turn San?”

“I can’t do that,” said Wooyoung seriously. “For one, I’m, like, super young. Also you’re not supposed to turn someone you like, that’s messed up. I could brainwash him and make him my slave—” He shut his mouth with an audible click, and grimaced. “Sorry.”

Jongho shrugged it off. He wasn’t offended. “You’re not supposed to be involved with someone you’ve turned,” he said. “But other blood bonds are okay, right? Like if you have the same maker?”

“Yeah, that’s fine,” said Wooyoung.

Jongho watched Wooyoung very carefully as he said, “Like you and Yeosang-hyung.”

Wooyoung went perfectly still. The smile vanished, replaced by something nervous, almost stricken. “What?” He laughed nervously. “Me and—and—what?”

“You and Yeosang-hyung,” repeated Jongho calmly. “You could be together.”

“No,” said Wooyoung, still with that painfully nervous laugh. “No, we—what are you talking about? It’s late, we should head to bed—”

He moved to round Jongho, but Jongho grabbed him by the elbow. “Hyung,” he said, with such utter seriousness that Wooyoung was forced to make eye contact. “Have you ever felt anything for Yeosang-hyung? Romantically?”

Wooyoung’s eyes went wide. He tried to break free of Jongho’s grip, but Jongho refused to let go. Wooyoung needed to answer this. Jongho needed to know.

“Let me go,” said Wooyoung, voice rising in desperation. “I don’t—I don’t know what you’re talking about. Let go!”

“I won’t tell Yeosang-hyung,” said Jongho. “I won’t tell anyone, I promise.”

Wooyoung turned a wide-eyed look on Jongho. “There’s nothing to tell!”

Jongho didn’t say anything, but he held on.

And then, finally, Wooyoung stopped struggling. “You can’t tell Yeosang,” he said, hardly more than a whisper. “Not because—I mean, we—it would make things weird, okay?”

Jongho nodded. He let go of Wooyoung’s elbow.

Wooyoung snatched his elbow out of reach and rubbed it. Jongho had never seen him look so uncertain. Even when Wooyoung had offered to kill Jihyun he had been steady and confident.

“When I first turned,” said Wooyoung, after an age of heavy silence. “You know Yeosang is—he’s so beautiful. I thought he was the prettiest person I’d ever seen.”

Jongho said nothing, let Wooyoung say it all uninterrupted.

“So, yeah, I kinda liked him,” said Wooyoung. He shrugged, aiming to look casual, but his movements were too stiff. 

He looked at Jongho, like he was waiting for him to say something in response, but Jongho didn’t. Wooyoung chewed his lower lip before continuing. “That was a long time ago,” he said. “Our bond wasn’t really strong back then, so he never knew. He still doesn’t.”

Silence settled over the two of them. Wooyoung, always uncomfortable with silence when it wasn’t with Yeosang, quickly said, “It wasn’t anything major, and I got over it really soon. Nothing serious.”

Jongho thought it over, and then asked, “Why?”

“Why what?” asked Wooyoung.

“Why did you get over it so soon?” asked Jongho. He knew how people worked. No one ever got over feelings so easily, not when the focus was right in front of them every night, as kind and as dedicated as Yeosang was to Wooyoung. 

“Oh, you know,” said Wooyoung, shrugging. “I talked it over with Jisung-hyung.”

Unease burst in Jongho’s gut. “Your maker,” he said.

“Yeah,” said Wooyoung. “He convinced me it was a bad idea.”

Jongho paused. “He convinced you,” he said, “or he compelled you?”

“He didn’t,” said Wooyoung at once, but it was too late.

Jongho knew. He knew what had happened.

And Wooyoung knew it too, no matter how much he denied it. Jongho could see that as well, how clear the doubt shone in Wooyoung’s eyes, how desperately he clung to the belief that his maker hadn’t done a fraction of what Jongho’s had done to him, that he had been better than that. 

“He didn’t,” repeated Wooyoung, louder. “He didn’t do that, I just stopped, I—he didn’t!”

“So you never felt anything for Yeosang-hyung even after your maker died?”

Wooyoung froze, and that was all the answer Jongho needed. 

“It’s not like that,” said Wooyoung, knowing what Jongho was thinking, knowing he’d given himself away. “It—it’s nothing, I’m just being dumb—”

Jongho let him continue. There was no point to it. Wooyoung could make as many excuses as he wanted, lie to himself and Jongho over and over, but they both knew the truth.

“Hyung,” said Jongho finally, mercifully putting an end to Wooyoung’s desperate denials. “It’s okay. I won’t tell.”

Wooyoung chewed his lower lip, and then took a deep breath. The action was so similar to Yeosang’s and yet so different.

“It’ll be sunrise soon,” said Jongho. 

“We should head to bed,” said Wooyoung, seeing the out for what it was. “We… see you tomorrow, Jongho.”

He went to enter his room, and this time Jongho let him go. The door closed with a click, letting heavy silence follow in its wake.

Jongho walked down the hallway, but he didn’t go to his room. He stood in front of Yeosang’s, hand raised to knock, when he stopped.

What would happen? If he told Yeosang what he knew, what would come of it? Would Wooyoung leave San to be with Yeosang? Jongho found that unlikely. Wooyoung refused to accept he even felt anything for Yeosang beyond friendship, and Jongho didn’t know if Yeosang would stay purely for the chance that Wooyoung might change his mind. Would it be just as Wooyoung feared, things between them souring until one of them left in the end?

Seonghwa would turn San. Of that, Jongho was certain. San was warm and full of life and Seonghwa loved him, and in the end Seonghwa would turn him. San turning was the first step to bringing Hongjoong inside the coven, and Jongho had no doubt that was Seonghwa’s one wish. 

And if San and Hongjoong were there, did Seonghwa even need Jongho anyway? 

No matter what Jongho did, things would change forever. 

He turned around and went back to his room. 

 

The more the humans advanced, the more the Earth suffered. They ate away at whatever natural resources were left, whatever few places there were where the animals still survived. They invaded rainforests, grasslands, even the deserts of sand and the deserts of ice. 

Jongho had once watched a documentary about a phenomenon known as habitat fragmentation. A certain area was eroded, often a forest once teeming with life, until it no longer functioned as a single solid environment. It split, fragmented, grew smaller and smaller as the cracks between the pieces grew and deepened. 

There were many effects. Some species fled as the habitat shrunk, seeking new homes. Others were forced to change their habits, finding new prey, new ways of feeding and living. And others died. Those that could not change, could not find a place for themselves in this new, chaotic rush for survival, they died, lost to the records of extinction and worth nothing more than a few lines in the newest documentary bemoaning human effect on life.

When a forest fragmented, what followed was ecosystem decay. The habitat itself died. Entire species died across the broken pieces of what was left.

Adaptation, that was the key. That was what healthy, unbroken species did. Things changed, the habitat changed, and they changed with it and survived.

Outside the sky paled, going from indigo to pink to pale gold as the sun slowly emerged from the horizon and washed everything in light and warmth. Inside, Jongho lay on his bed and thought about ecosystem decay. 

Chapter Text

“I’m going to break up with Wooyoung.”

Hongjoong almost dropped his phone.

He caught it at the last minute, just before it slipped from his fingers. He sat still as a statue where he was sitting on the sofa. Slowly, he raised his gaze to make eye contact with Yunho sitting opposite, but Yunho was staring at San, eyes wide. It seemed this was just as much of a shock to him as it was to Hongjoong.

“But—but why?” asked Yunho. “I thought you liked him a lot.”

Hongjoong thought so too. He didn’t say that aloud, though. Things between him and San weren’t as tense as they had been before, but they definitely hadn’t smoothed everything out yet. Hongjoong wondered if they’d get the chance to now.

“I do like him a lot,” said San. He looked only at Yunho, like Hongjoong wasn’t even in the room. 

“Then why?” Yunho was lost.

San took a deep breath, and settled lower into the couch. “He keeps talking about turning me,” he said. 

And now he looked at Hongjoong. Hongjoong just stared back, stunned.

“What?” Yunho bolted upright. “He—what? Seriously?”

“Seriously,” said San, turning back to him. “You didn’t know?”

Yunho shook his head. 

“Yeah, well, he keeps floating the idea,” said San. “I thought he was just saying it just to, like, imagine, but he really means it. He wants me to be a vampire too.”

“So you’re breaking up with him?” asked Hongjoong.

San looked at him, and nodded.

“Yeah but he can’t mean it,” said Yunho. “I mean, you guys haven’t even been together six months.”

“He doesn’t mean right now,” said San. “He’s talking about it happening in the future. But I don’t want to turn, ever. And I don’t wanna give him false hope.”

“But that doesn’t mean you have to break up,” said Yunho. “You can just tell him you don’t want to be a vampire.”

“He’ll always think he can change my mind later, I know him,” said San. He swallowed. “I don’t wanna do that to him.” 

“But you guys love each other—”

“Which is why I need to do this now, for his sake.”

Silence fell after San’s words. Yunho looked upset, chewing on his bottom lip. There was a shadow of resignation on San’s face that hurt Hongjoong more than anything he’d ever seen before.

“I think it’s for the better,” he said quietly. 

San whipped his head around to face Hongjoong, eyes dripping acid. “Of course you’d say that,” he said. “You’re happy now, aren’t you?”

“I’m not,” said Hongjoong. He had a lot of mixed feelings over this situation, but he wasn’t happy. “How can I be happy when you’re hurting?”

San just glared, saying nothing. He wanted to be angry, and Hongjoong could see it in his eyes, just like how he could see San wasn’t angry, not really. And San knew it too, because he just huffed and sank further into the couch. 

“I’m sorry,” said Hongjoong, and he really meant that. 

“It’s not your fault,” muttered San. 

More silence. Yunho’s eyes were on his hands in his lap, his expression clouded. Hongjoong just watched San’s side profile. 

He wasn’t happy, but he couldn’t deny the relief he felt climbing in his gut. He did like Wooyoung, but there were dangers to dating him beyond just a nocturnal lifestyle. Hongjoong wouldn’t forget Yeosang and his quiet possessiveness. 

“Is that the only reason?” asked Hongjoong, even though he knew he shouldn’t. “He didn’t do or say anything…?” He trailed off, letting San fill in the blank however he wanted.

“No, he didn’t do anything,” said San, peering at Hongjoong. “He just keeps talking about me turning.”

So either San didn’t know about Yeosang, or he didn’t want Hongjoong to know. That was fine. It didn’t matter to Hongjoong, because he knew that this break up would take San out of Yeosang’s radar, and away from his cold gaze and jealousy. 

He wished Yeosang and Wooyoung the best, away from San. 

“Well, that’s it, I guess,” said San, jumping to his feet. “I just thought I should give you guys a head’s up, since you’ll find out about it anyway.”

Hongjoong bit his lip. Seonghwa obviously had no idea what was coming. If Wooyoung liked San as much as Hongjoong guessed he did he would be crushed, and Seonghwa would be hurt too. He loved Wooyoung. 

Of course Hongjoong couldn’t tell Seonghwa, but he could feel guilty about it. 

“I think I’ll go to bed early,” said San. “See you guys in the morning.”

With that, he left for his room. Hongjoong expected Yunho to follow, ask questions he couldn’t or didn’t want to ask in front of Hongjoong, but he didn’t. He just sat where he was, deep in thought.

“Hey,” said Hongjoong. “You okay?”

Yunho raised his head, and Hongjoong was surprised to find determination in his eyes. “Hyung,” he said. “I need to tell you something.” 

“Yeah, sure,” said Hongjoong, surprised. “What’s up?”

In response Yunho got up and went and sat on the coffee table so that he was right in front of Hongjoong, close enough to reach out and hold Hongjoong’s hands if he wanted to. He looked more serious than Hongjoong had seen him in a long time.

“Okay, now you’re kind of scaring me,” said Hongjoong with a nervous laugh.

But Yunho didn’t crack a smile. “I’m going to tell you something and I need you to hear it as my friend,” he said. “Not as my hyung or that weird single parent thing you do, okay? Right now, you’re my friend. Can you do that?”

Wary, Hongjoong nodded.

Yunho took a deep breath. “I lied,” he said. “I’m sorry. The guy I’m talking to does live in Seoul.”

“Okay,” said Hongjoong, but the uneasiness did not subside. If anything it got worse. Yunho must’ve lied for a reason, and it could not be good.

“Actually, you know him,” said Yunho. 

Hongjoong mentally rifled through his list of the scummiest guys he’d ever met. His first thought was one of San’s exes, maybe that essential oils guy, but no way, Yunho was smarter than that—

“It’s Mingi.”

Hongjoong’s thoughts came to a screeching, shuddering halt.

He knew a Mingi. No, he knew of a Mingi. He didn’t know him personally, he’d never met him, because according to Seonghwa—

“No,” he said.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before,” said Yunho. “I should’ve told you, I know, but Mingi was worried—”

“No,” said Hongjoong again. “No, you can’t be dating him. He can’t—Seonghwa said—he said—” He couldn’t even finish. Yunho had to be kidding, or talking about some other Mingi. Not the boy in Seonghwa’s coven, the vampire who had the uncontrolled bloodlust of a newborn, the vampire who couldn’t even be near humans.

Not Mingi.

“We don’t meet in person,” said Yunho. “We just talk over the phone or text or video call. I didn’t even know he was a vampire when I first started talking to him.”

“He’s not just a vampire,” hissed Hongjoong. “Do you know how he is? Did he tell you he can’t be around people without wanting to attack them? He’s not normal, Yunho.”

Yunho’s expression hardened. “Don’t talk about him like that.”

Hongjoong was at an utter loss. “How can you be okay with this?” he asked. “You can’t be serious.”

“I am serious,” said Yunho, and he looked it. “I’m not asking your permission, hyung. I didn’t hide it from you because I was scared of you. Mingi didn’t want to make things uncomfortable for me, or for Seonghwa-hyung.”

The sound of Seonghwa’s name from Yunho’s lips nearly knocked Hongjoong out. His head spun as he tried to put everything together, connect all the dots, link all the lines. Yunho was in some kind of relationship with Mingi. Mingi was in Seonghwa’s coven. Then Yunho did have a connection to Seonghwa beyond Hongjoong, and to Wooyoung beyond San, and Yeosang—

“Fucking hell,” groaned Hongjoong.

“It’s okay if you need some time to think everything through,” said Yunho. He got to his feet, and stood before Hongjoong like some great stone tower. “But don’t ask me to break up with him. I’m not going to do that.”

Before Hongjoong could even open his mouth to respond, Yunho was gone, and he was sitting alone in the living room.

He ruffled his hair with both hands. It was all one big mess. Even Yunho was mixed up with vampires. And not just vampires—he was mixed up with the most dangerous vampire of all. Even Yeosang would’ve been a better choice. He might’ve been cold, but no matter how dangerous his thoughts were he could control his actions and not act on them. Mingi was something entirely different. Seonghwa was protective of him for a reason after all.

Seonghwa. “Shit,” muttered Hongjoong to himself as he scrolled down to his contact and pressed call. Did he know? Hongjoong didn’t think so; Seonghwa would’ve told him if he had. Wouldn’t he? 

“Hongjoong.”

“Peach,” said Hongjoong. He laughed, trying to ease the tension in his chest. “This is going to sound so dumb, but did Mingi say anything to you? About Yunho?”

Silence. And then: “Are you home?”

“Peach,” repeated Hongjoong, but he wasn’t laughing anymore. “Did he? Did Mingi tell you? Did you know?”

“He told me a couple of hours ago,” said Seonghwa. “He said he and Yunho had agreed to tell us both tonight.”

“To tell us both,” said Hongjoong. He didn’t miss the phrasing. San already knew. And if San did, Wooyoung did, and Yeosang probably too. 

“I’m coming over,” said Seonghwa. 

“You don’t need to do that,” said Hongjoong. He’d had a shock, but he was alright. He couldn’t fall into Seonghwa’s arms every time things didn’t go like he’d expected. 

“I think I do,” said Seonghwa. “We have a lot to talk about.”

Hongjoong chewed his lower lip. “Right,” he said. “I’ll—I’ll see you then.”

“I’ll see you soon.”

As soon as he hung up, Hongjoong was seized with the sudden urge to throw his phone against the wall. He settled for throwing it on the couch and violently messing up his hair with both hands. This was why he hadn’t wanted anyone to know about him and Seonghwa. It had been so simple and perfect when it had been just the two of them. Maybe it was naïve to think it would’ve stayed simple if it had stayed a secret, but things were so complicated now, and they would only get more complicated when San and Wooyoung broke up. 

Hongjoong threw his head back over the backrest and groaned. 

He forced himself up to get ready. He grabbed a heavy coat and scarf to protect himself against the bitter January cold, and tried to tame his hair a bit before giving up and tugging on a beanie. Seonghwa had seen him worse, but that didn’t mean Hongjoong shouldn’t try and make an effort.

When Hongjoong went down he found Seonghwa waiting for him, car parked outside the complex gate.

“Hi,” he said, slipping his phone back in his coat. 

“Hey,” said Hongjoong. “You didn’t need to come.”

“I wanted to talk,” said Seonghwa. “I thought it would be better to talk in person.”

Hongjoong nodded. A strange nervousness squirmed in his gut, and it kept him standing at a distance from Seonghwa. 

“How are you handling it?” asked Seonghwa.

“I don’t know,” said Hongjoong. “This kind of hit me out of fucking nowhere.”

“I was pretty surprised too,” said Seonghwa. He reached out a hand, and Hongjoong moved to hold it. His hand was cold but it was some comfort. 

“I don’t know how to react to this,” said Hongjoong, words thawing from the touch of Seonghwa’s skin. “Yunho told me he won’t stop no matter what I say, so I’m just supposed to be okay with this? How? He can’t—he’s—you know.”

“I do,” said Seonghwa quietly.

“But Yunho won’t let go of him,” said Hongjoong. “I know him. He won’t stop seeing him no matter what I do.” He groaned and let go of Seonghwa’s hand to rub his face vigorously.

“Why would you do anything?”

Hongjoong stopped and lowered his hands. “What?”

“Just let them be, Hongjoong,” said Seonghwa. “They like each other, and they’re not meeting in person. Yunho’s not in any danger.”

“How can you say that?” said Hongjoong, aghast. “Of course he’s in danger, it’s—”

“They’re not meeting in person,” repeated Seonghwa, a touch more firmly.

“For now,” said Hongjoong. “I know Yunho, there’s no way he’ll be satisfied with this online relationship they have now.”

“And I know Mingi, he’d never do anything to put Yunho at risk,” said Seonghwa. “Don’t do this, Hongjoong. Let them be.”

“You’re saying I’m wrong to worry about Yunho?” asked Hongjoong, gut twisting deep inside. “You think I’m overreacting?” 

“No, I understand why you’re worried,” said Seonghwa. “But you don’t need to be.”

He looked serious. His handsome face was set and he held himself up straight, not leaning towards Hongjoong like he did so naturally. Seonghwa had not come to hold Hongjoong and soothe his tumultuous nerves by telling him he was right. 

Hongjoong felt abandoned at sea.

“I love you, and you know I will always be on your side,” said Seonghwa. “But I cannot support you in this.”

Hongjoong said nothing. He didn’t know what to say.

“I know you’re worried,” continued Seonghwa. “I know. But you’re asking me to take away Mingi’s happiness, and I can’t do that.”

It was as brief as a flash of lightning, and just as clear. The vision of a future without Seonghwa. A future where Hongjoong and Seonghwa never worked past this, where they fell apart because their families had gotten entangled and neither would bend to the other and it all ended here, outside Hongjoong’s apartment complex on a cold January night. 

“Try to understand me,” said Seonghwa, and Hongjoong could hear a line of frustration sneak in. “Just this once. I tried to understand you, when you wanted to hide us, when you—”

Hongjoong threw himself at Seonghwa and hugged him tight.

He felt Seonghwa still in his arms, and only hugged him tighter. He slid his arms in under his coat, trying to hold him as close as possible, not caring that there wasn’t any warmth to cling to. 

“I’m sorry,” said Hongjoong, face pressed to Seonghwa’s collarbone. “I’m sorry.”

“I know,” said Seonghwa quietly. His arms went around Hongjoong. “It’s okay. I’m not mad. I just want you to trust me this time.”

Hongjoong did. He trusted Seonghwa more than anyone. He hated the thought of hurting him, of losing him, but Yunho—and when San would break up with Wooyoung—

“They won’t meet, Hongjoong,” said Seonghwa. “Mingi hasn’t left our house in over five years. He would never risk hurting anyone, much less Yunho. He won’t go see him just because Yunho might ask him to.”

“You don’t know that,” said Hongjoong.

“I do,” said Seonghwa. “I know Mingi and I trust him. They won’t meet.”

Hongjoong bit his lip. He wanted to argue, but Seonghwa sounded so sure. And Hongjoong trusted Seonghwa. 

“You promise?” he mumbled, not caring how childish he sounded. 

“I promise,” said Seonghwa. “If Mingi even leaves the house, I give you permission to—to punch me in the face.”

Hongjoong snorted. “Like I’d ever do anything to damage that pretty face.”

“Well, you won’t get the chance, so everything’s alright,” said Seonghwa. He chuckled lightly, and then leaned down to press his lips to Hongjoong’s hair.

They stood there like that awhile, Hongjoong taking a moment to calm himself. There would be more storms ahead but here, now, he had Seonghwa.

He needed him. It was just as Hongjoong had feared so long ago, but so much more obvious now. He needed Seonghwa. It was making him pathetic, and maybe stupid too, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.

“You mean so much to me,” murmured Hongjoong, face pressed to Seonghwa’s chest so no one would see him, not even the winter wind. “I’m sorry I’m not better at saying it.”

Seonghwa’s arms tightened around him. “Then I guess it’s good that I know even without you telling me.” 

When Hongjoong returned to the apartment, he found Yunho in the living room waiting for him, a mix of nervousness and defiance on his face. Yunho stood and braced himself for whatever was coming.

“Don’t become nocturnal like me, you still have classes and stuff during the day,” said Hongjoong, and then he went to bed. 

 

“I’m heading out.”

Yunho looked up from his phone and nodded.

Hongjoong hovered by the door. He wanted to look over Yunho’s shoulder and see what he was doing on his phone, but that would be him doing that weird single parent thing he did, so Hongjoong only nodded and left. He was Yunho’s friend.  

He did trust Seonghwa, and, by extension, Mingi. It was Yunho he didn’t trust. Yunho always seemed harmless, but when he was set on something it was impossible to deter him. And he was set on Mingi.

Hongjoong thought it over on the bus to his delivery job. Maybe it was time he met Mingi. He knew every other vampire in that house already. Seonghwa of course, and Jongho, Yeosang, Wooyoung… 

He fought a groan. San hadn’t broken up with Wooyoung, and Hongjoong was getting sick with anxiety waiting for it. Everything would only get messier when it finally happened.

While waiting for his first delivery assignment, Hongjoong talked to Seonghwa on the phone. 

“I’m at the club,” said Seonghwa. “I’ll drop by the house before I come to pick you up, okay?”

“It’s still early, you don’t need to worry about that,” said Hongjoong. “I haven’t even gone on a delivery yet.”

There was a brief silence, and then Seonghwa said, “You know, Hongjoong, just think about it a moment…”

Hongjoong sighed. He knew what Seonghwa was getting at. “I’m not quitting this job,” he said.

“You already have two more,” said Seonghwa. “And what kind of job is this, making you go out in the night to random people’s houses? That can’t be legal.”

“It is, and they pay me pretty well for it,” said Hongjoong.

More silence. Hongjoong could almost hear the gears in Seonghwa’s head turning. Seonghwa hated Hongjoong’s delivery job even more than he hated his convenience store one, and they’d talked about this more than once. It was one of those disagreements that had no end. 

Hongjoong switched topics. “What are you doing at the club anyway?” he asked. “I thought we—I mean, do you need to?” He glanced around to see if anyone was listening, suddenly embarrassed. 

“Oh, no, no,” said Seonghwa quickly. “I just came to talk to the owners. I don’t need to feed.”

“Okay,” said Hongjoong, satisfied, and he could’ve sworn he heard Seonghwa giggle.

He didn’t like Seonghwa going to the vampire den to feed from strangers. He’d been uncomfortable ever since Jongho had told him people would make moves on him and the other vampires, some way out of line, but he’d swallowed it down thinking there were no alternatives. 

Except it turned out there was an alternative which, in hindsight, had been very obvious. 

And Hongjoong was okay with it. He was more than okay. The high was good, but even better was knowing that the feeding was significant to Seonghwa, seeing him soften with happiness whenever Hongjoong offered. Keeping him from potentially skeevy people was the cherry on top. 

As he piled all his packages for the night, Hongjoong wondered if it was an occasional thing or if Wooyoung fed regularly from San. It seemed a given that he did. If Hongjoong let Seonghwa, of course San let Wooyoung. They cared a lot for each other. The thought stuck in the back of Hongjoong’s mind all the while during his first two deliveries. 

“Damn it,” Hongjoong muttered aloud as he rode his shitty company scooter down the streets. He took a turn into an emptier side street, where the road was lined with drab brick buildings and thin alleys in between. He had so many mixed feelings about San and Wooyoung’s impending break up, and he didn’t know how to settle them. He was happy there would be distance between San and Yeosang, but Wooyoung would be hurt, and so would Seonghwa, and if things ended badly they would be forced to choose sides—

Hongjoong was so caught up in his thoughts he didn’t see the girl until it was almost too late. 

She yelped. He yanked on the handlebar and just managed to turn the scooter in the last second. He stopped it a few feet ahead, turned off the engine, and then jumped off and ran back to check if he’d hurt the girl. 

She was still standing, but she looked shaken, and she’d dropped her bag. She turned wide eyes on Hongjoong as he approached.

“Are you okay?” he asked. “I’m so sorry, I should’ve been more careful. Did I graze you?”

“I’m fine,” she said from behind the scarf wrapped around her mouth and chin. She was wearing a beanie too, and a thick coat and gloves. Good protection against the night chill. 

Hongjoong picked up her bag and handed it back to her. “That’s good,” he said. “I’m really sorry.”

“It’s okay, I’m not hurt,” said the girl. From what Hongjoong could see of her face, she looked around his age. She reminded him of Seonghwa a little, how polite and careful she was. Seonghwa would apologize even if someone threw a drink in his face.

Hongjoong was about to apologize again and take his leave, when the girl’s eyes went wide and she started looking around wildly. “What’s wrong?” he asked. 

“My cat,” said the girl desperately. “My cat, Missy, I was carrying her—I let her go and I don’t see her, I—where did she go?”

“Hey, it’s okay,” said Hongjoong. He glanced at his delivery scooter, and then at the girl and her eyes brimming with tears, and made a split second decision. “I’ll help you find her.”

“Thank you,” said the girl. “She’s a stray I rescued and sometimes she runs off and I’m scared one day I won’t find her again.” 

“I’m sure she’s around here somewhere,” said Hongjoong. “What does she look like?”

The cat was dark gray, with stripes across her back. “She won’t respond to her name, so don’t bother calling her,” said the girl. “Just holler if you spot her. We’ll cover more ground if we split up.”

So that’s what they did. Hongjoong went down one way, keeping his eyes peeled for a cat. This street was filled with old buildings, mostly apartments, and had a lot of dark alleys from when space in Seoul wasn’t worth diamond tears. Hongjoong ventured down one of them.

It wasn’t that dark, but Hongjoong turned on his phone flashlight just in case. The cat was pretty dark in color and he had a feeling it wouldn’t want to be found by him. He wondered if Seonghwa liked cats. Probably, he seemed like a cat person—

Pain erupted across the back of Hongjoong’s head, and darkness swallowed his vision.

 

Someone was saying something. Hongjoong couldn’t make out what, the words muted and garbled in his ears, but they were worried. Bright light shone into his eyes. Hongjoong groaned and tried to get away from it.

“… okay, he’s moving…”

That wasn’t a voice Hongjoong recognized. He groaned and tried to open his eyes again under the painful light. “Wh—what happened?” His head was throbbing, and his limbs felt weak.

“It’s okay, you’re okay,” said the voice. Female, young. “You slipped on ice and hit your head.”

That explained the pain in the back of Hongjoong’s skull. But something about it didn’t feel right. He forced his eyes open and found himself in what looked like the backroom of a café or restaurant. The voice he’d heard belonged to a woman wearing a waitressing uniform. 

“How do you feel?” she asked. “I thought about calling an ambulance, but I didn’t know if I should. Do you feel woozy? You weren’t bleeding so I thought—”

“I’m fine,” said Hongjoong. “Thank you for not calling an ambulance.” San or Yunho would’ve been called, and he didn’t want them worrying. He hesitated a moment, and then said, “You said I slipped on ice. How do you know that?”

“Someone brought you in,” said the woman. “She said she saw you slip and fall.”

A girl— “What did she look like?” asked Hongjoong.

“I don’t really know,” said the woman. “She had a scarf around her face.”

A scarf around her face. Like Seonghwa wore because his breath didn’t mist in the air. A girl. Who’d lost her cat and needed Hongjoong to help her find it, who’d looked at him with helpless teary eyes knowing he wouldn’t be able to refuse. 

A girl.

“Hey, slow down,” said the woman as Hongjoong lurched upright. “You look pale. Lie down a while, you can call a friend to pick you up.”

“I’m fine,” said Hongjoong, and he was, he swore. “Thank you for making sure I was alright. I really appreciate it.”

His savior did not look happy, but she let Hongjoong go. He smiled at her and bowed, and then left the warm safety of the restaurant she worked at.

As soon as he was out of sight, Hongjoong threw off his jacket.

He ran his fingers along his neck. Nothing. No bumps under his fingertips. But Hongjoong knew. He started searching elsewhere, down his chest, along his arms, his sides. 

He found them on the underside of his upper left arm. Two tiny bumps, already fading. 

Fang marks.

Hongjoong grit his teeth. She’d bitten him

He swore, kicked the ground. How could he have been so careless? He should’ve seen through her the moment he saw the scarf. Seonghwa would be so fucking upset—

Hongjoong stopped. Seonghwa.

He would be more than upset, he’d be distraught. Hongjoong knew him. Seonghwa would eat himself alive with worry and guilt. He was always so worried about Hongjoong, and Hongjoong had gone and let himself be fooled by some vampire. 

Hongjoong could’ve hit himself for his stupidity. 

The restaurant was two streets over from where the vampire had grabbed him. The scooter was still there, thankfully, and the packages too. Hongjoong debated going on and delivering them. He was fine, after all. He checked his watch—he hadn’t been out for long, and there was still lots of time left in his shift. 

And after that Seonghwa would come and pick him up.

Hongjoong got on the scooter and rode back towards the delivery center.

His brain whirred with thoughts the entire journey. He knew vampires could smell each other’s venom—it was how Wooyoung had found out about him and Seonghwa. The vampire who bit him must’ve smelled Seonghwa in his blood, but that hadn’t been enough to deter her, not when she’d found such a perfect idiot for a victim. 

It didn’t matter now. The moment Seonghwa saw Hongjoong, he’d know. 

“What do you mean you only got two deliveries done?” yelled the manager. “Get your ass back on the road and do the rest of them!”

“I need to get home early tonight,” said Hongjoong. “Sorry.”

“Sorry?” The manager looked close to popping a blood vessel. “Am I just supposed to say sorry to the customers?”

He yelled a bit longer, and Hongjoong stood there quietly and took it. The skin on his left arm was crawling with a thousand spiders. 

In the end the manager couldn’t physically force Hongjoong to go back on the road, though he did threaten to fire him. Hongjoong accepted the risk and left. He got on the bus home and waited until it was rolling down Seoul’s streets before he took the plunge.  

“Hongjoong, hi,” said Seonghwa after he’d picked up. “Are you in between deliveries?”

“Not exactly,” said Hongjoong. Casual. Calm and casual. That’s how he needed to do it. “I finished everything early. They let me go home.”

“Oh, shit.” There was rustling on the line. “I’ll be right there, wait just a few minutes.”

“It’s okay,” said Hongjoong. “I’m—I’m already on the way home. You don’t need to bother.”

There was a stretch of silence on the line, and Hongjoong was silently losing it, certain that Seonghwa had found out somehow. He knew Hongjoong was avoiding him, and he knew why. 

“Hongjoong,” said Seonghwa quietly. “San broke up with Wooyoung tonight.”

“Oh.” Hongjoong didn’t know what else to say. Seonghwa didn’t know Hongjoong had been bitten by another vampire. “Oh, I’m—I’m sorry.”

“Did you know?” asked Seonghwa.

“I didn’t know he was doing it tonight,” said Hongjoong. He scratched at his left arm. “San did tell me he would. Sorry.”

Another pause, and then Seonghwa asked, “Do you know why?”

Hongjoong’s stomach turned. He didn’t like the way Seonghwa asked that question, and his arm was itching more than ever. Was it always like that? It had never been like this when Seonghwa bit him, it had never felt so wrong and gross, making him wish he could just scratch those bumps off with his skin—

“Hongjoong?”

He started back to the present. “Sorry, yeah, I’m here,” he said. He swallowed. “Yeah, I know why.”

Another pause before Seonghwa asked, “How do you feel about it?”

“About what?” asked Hongjoong as he looked through his wallet. She’d taken some of his cash, but not much. He wanted to snort. How fucking kind of her.

“About San’s reason for ending things with Wooyoung.”

“It’s his reason,” said Hongjoong. “It doesn’t matter how I feel.”

“But you must feel something about it,” insisted Seonghwa. 

Hongjoong squirmed in his hard plastic seat. He didn’t like this. He didn’t like the question Seonghwa wasn’t asking. 

“You wanna know if I think San did the right thing?” asked Hongjoong. His head still hurt and he couldn’t dance around this. 

“Do you?” asked Seonghwa.

“Yeah, I do,” said Hongjoong. “He doesn’t wanna turn. He didn’t wanna give Wooyoung false hope. It was brave of him ending things now.”

“Wooyoung wasn’t planning on San turning any time soon,” said Seonghwa, sounding upset. “He didn’t need to leave Wooyoung over this.”

“He didn’t want Wooyoung to keep hoping it would happen,” said Hongjoong. “It’s not going to happen. He thought Wooyoung would never accept that.” 

“It could,” said Seonghwa. “Maybe San doesn’t want to turn now, but Wooyoung doesn’t want him to turn now either. Why would he leave him over something that’s so far away?” 

They weren’t talking about San and Wooyoung anymore. Hongjoong’s stomach turned, and the itch in his left arm flared up. How long did the venom scent last? How many nights would he need to avoid Seonghwa? He tried to focus on the conversation and said, “You won’t accept he won’t change his mind.”

“I just don’t see why now,” said Seonghwa, agitated. “Everything’s fine now, and things could change in the future.”

“They won’t,” said Hongjoong.

“You don’t know that!”

“Peach—”

“Don’t call me that right now!” cried Seonghwa. “How can you think that? You really think San made the right decision?”

Hongjoong bit his lip. And then he said, as calmly as he could, “Yes.”

“Then you’d do the same to me,” said Seonghwa. “You’d leave me.”

“I’m not leaving you,” said Hongjoong immediately. “I’m not—”

“But you would,” said Seonghwa, and Hongjoong felt his heart clench when he heard the words. They were hot with anger and wet with tears. “You would.”

“I didn’t say that—”

“Of course you didn’t,” bit back Seonghwa. “You never say anything. You just do whatever you feel like.”

Hongjoong’s arm throbbed like his veins were carrying poison. “Seonghwa…” 

“Whatever,” said Seonghwa, and Hongjoong heard the soft sniffle. “Run away and avoid me and do whatever you want, like you always do. I can’t always be the understanding one. I won’t.”

“Seonghwa, please,” said Hongjoong. The poison had reached his chest, and it hurt. “I know I fucked up before, but can we just talk? I don’t—”

Seonghwa hung up.

Hongjoong pulled the phone away from his ear to stare at the screen. Seonghwa never hung up on him like that. He’d never heard him that upset, not since that night he’d gone to see Hongjoong outside his apartment, that night he’d blinked back tears and been so ruffled he hadn’t bothered to look human. 

But it was okay, Hongjoong told himself. He and Seonghwa had come back from that. They would come back from this too. Hongjoong just had to wait a few nights and then he could meet Seonghwa again and fix things. They’d work through it. It didn’t matter that Yunho was dating Mingi and Hongjoong hated it, that San and Wooyoung had broken up and Seonghwa was hurt and angry, that some vampire had sunk her fangs into Hongjoong and Hongjoong couldn’t even go see Seonghwa now—

Sudden tears pricked his eyes, and he forced them back. Hongjoong hadn’t cried in front of anyone in years, and he wasn’t going to cry in public. It was okay. 

He gripped the phone in his left hand until his knuckles went white. 

Chapter Text

Yeosang knew something was wrong the moment he sensed Wooyoung outside the gate.

It was too early. He’d gone out to be with San, and that always meant an absence of a few hours at the least. Yeosang didn’t know what they did together but they never seemed to tire of each other’s company, and Wooyoung would happily spend most of the night with San, and often did whenever he could. But it had hardly been an hour and Wooyoung was back at the house. 

And he was hurting. He was hurting so bad Yeosang could feel it even through their muted bond, tendrils of it sneaking past like wisps of smoke.

Yeosang went downstairs, feet moving of their own accord. He had just crossed the living room to the front door when it swung open, revealing Wooyoung standing in the doorway, chest heaving and eyes glimmering with a sheen of tears.

Before Yeosang could react, Wooyoung ran in and threw himself into his arms. 

Stunned, Yeosang stood frozen, a shaking Wooyoung pressed to his front. Slowly, so slowly, he wrapped his arms around him. 

He held Wooyoung like that for what felt like hours, saying nothing, only keeping him close. He felt Wooyoung shake as he cried, and Yeosang could do nothing but hold him through it, through his sobs and whimpers and the tears Yeosang slowly felt soak through his shirt. He could smell San on him. 

“He broke up with me.”

Yeosang’s fingers gripped Wooyoung’s jacket. 

“He—he said—” Wooyoung took a deep, shuddering breath, coughed out tears. “He didn’t want—now or later, he didn’t—he didn’t—”

He broke off into more tears. Yeosang ran his fingers through Wooyoung’s hair to soothe him, while in his chest something vicious and ugly reared its head. San had hurt Wooyoung. Wooyoung had put his heart in his hands and San had crushed it, he had hurt him—

Yeosang forced that monster down. His feelings weren’t important now. Wooyoung was in pain and he needed Yeosang, he needed Yeosang’s support, and Yeosang couldn’t forget that just because he was angry.

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly.

Wooyoung said nothing in response to that, but his grip around Yeosang tightened.

They stood like that a while longer, until Yeosang felt the shaking stop, and Wooyoung just leaned into his embrace, still. He wanted to ask for more details, but he didn’t dare, and some part of him was scared of what he’d hear. Yeosang didn’t know if his heart could bear hearing of Wooyoung begging San to stay. 

In the end, he didn’t have to ask. “He said he didn’t wanna turn,” said Wooyoung. His voice sounded hollow, empty. So unlike Wooyoung and his usual vitality.

“What?” Yeosang thought he hadn’t heard right. “He didn’t—what?”

“He doesn’t want to turn,” said Wooyoung. He pulled away, just far enough for Yeosang to see his tearstained face. “He doesn’t want to be a vampire.”

Yeosang was silent, thinking it over. “Did he say why?” he asked finally. The whole thing was unfathomable to him. San had been offered an eternity of Wooyoung’s love, and he’d refused. 

“He said he wanted to stay human,” said Wooyoung. “He was—he doesn’t like the idea of blood bonds. He doesn’t want to be bonded like that.”

Yeosang thought of Jongho and what he’d experienced, and thought he understood. His own maker had never compelled neither him nor Wooyoung to do anything, so it was easy for him to overlook the dangers, as serious as they might be. But that only applied to disturbing people like Jihyun, not Seonghwa. 

“Seonghwa-hyung would’ve been his maker, though,” said Yeosang. “He’d never compel or control or hurt him.”

“Not like that,” said Wooyoung. “I don’t know if he even meant it. He said I—I wasn’t being honest, that we—you and me—that it’s not just—”

He stopped, and without warning grabbed Yeosang in another tight hug, burrowing his face into his neck.

“Wooyoung?” Yeosang was thrown by the sudden action.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Wooyoung, voice muffled. “He was—he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Yeosang stayed silent. He didn’t know what San had said, and if Wooyoung wasn’t willing to tell him, he wouldn’t push. Instead he tightened his hold around Wooyoung, pulling their bodies flush against each other, and gave him whatever comfort he could.

“He’ll come back to me,” said Wooyoung, and Yeosang could feel the words vibrate against his skin. “We’re meant for each other.”

The words sunk deep in Yeosang’s skin, slipping into his veins. Even after being hurt so badly, Wooyoung wanted San. All he cared about was San.

But that was now. This would fade, the pain and the memories, and Wooyoung would forget all about the pretty human he thought was his one true love, while he lived out the rest of eternity with Yeosang. He had to. Yeosang had to believe that. 

“I love him.”

There was something painful in Yeosang’s throat, something sharp and pointed like a razor blade, and he swallowed it down. “I know,” he said.

“I don’t know how I’ll live without him,” mumbled Wooyoung. “I can’t.”

You can, with me. But Yeosang kept the words in his heart, and only went back stroking Wooyoung’s hair. 

 

✤✥✣✥✤

 

The room was well lit—lamps on tables, small chandelier of red glass hanging from the ceiling. The décor was understated, neat in an almost bland way, with no distinct style or theme, no eye-catching pieces. It felt like a bland office. It was meant to serve that purpose, but it was difficult to see it as one, knowing who sat behind that desk.

“It’ll be six years in February,” said Sanghyuk.

“I know,” said Seonghwa.

The ancient vampire shook his head. “We can’t supply blood like this until the end of time,” he said. 

“I know,” said Seonghwa. He knew he was repeating himself, but there was nothing else to say.

He knew. He knew the club owners didn’t pay humans for the bottled blood—all they got came from volunteers. He knew the bottled blood was supposed to be a temporary thing, provided for no more than half a year to keep newborn vampires from causing chaos. He knew fewer and fewer humans were willing to have their blood drained into bottles and supply was already running low.

Seonghwa knew. But what was he supposed to do? He needed those bottles. Mingi needed them.

Standing before him, leaning against the dark wood desk, Sanghyuk sighed. The dark-haired vampire was the youngest in the coven that had established itself as the ruling power among vampires, but much older than Seonghwa still, and carried a kind of restrained strength that was terrifying in its potential. Still, Seonghwa was glad that it was Sanghyuk he had found in the backroom office at the club that night. The older vampire was not unkind, and more approachable than most of the others. 

“I know you’re in a tough spot,” said Sanghyuk. “He doesn’t show any signs of improving?”

“No,” said Seonghwa. He hesitated. “I don’t know. Mingi hasn’t been around humans recently.”

“Maybe you can try getting him reintroduced into society,” suggested Sanghyuk. “Not many are willing to fill the bottles, but there are more and more humans looking for a bite every night.”

“I can’t,” said Seonghwa. “What if he hurts someone?”

“Baby steps, Seonghwa-ssi,” said Sanghyuk. “He has to start somewhere.”

Seonghwa said nothing in response to that. Sanghyuk made it sound so easy, but he didn’t understand. Mingi was a kind, gentle person. He would never be able to bear it if he hurt someone. Neither would Seonghwa, if he was being honest. 

“Have you thought of getting a feeder?”

The words snapped Seonghwa out of his thoughts. “A feeder?”

“A human to fill bottles, if you don’t trust him to feed normally,” said Sanghyuk. “We don’t provide them, of course—Hakyeon-hyung finds it distasteful—but if you have a human friend willing to help…”  

Someone willing to siphon the blood out of their body and into a bottle for Mingi to drink from. Seonghwa did have a few human friends, some of whom even knew what he was, but he couldn’t imagine asking them for something like this. 

He wondered, just for an instant, how Hongjoong would react, and then immediately forced the thought from his mind. 

“I know you’re worried, and I understand,” said Sanghyuk. “It’s good you’re careful. I wish more vampires were as careful as you, honestly. But you can’t close your eyes and hope everything stays like this forever. Things will have to change.”

His words remained with Seonghwa even after he’d left the club, snaking around in his ribcage. Change. He’d never been wary of it before, but it loomed before him now like a monster on the horizon. Seonghwa didn’t want any more change. Why couldn’t things have stayed as they were, just a week ago? 

Seonghwa’s phone started ringing as he climbed into his car. He knew who it was without checking, but he still slid it out of his pocket and looked at the screen.

Hongjoong. Seonghwa thought about it, chewing his lower lip, until he finally decided to give in and picked up. 

“Shit,” said Hongjoong as soon as Seonghwa held the phone up to his ear. “Shit, you actually picked up. Okay.”

Seonghwa didn’t say anything in reply. He had been avoiding most of Hongjoong’s calls over the last few days. It was always a repeat of the previous conversation, Hongjoong apologizing and admitting he’d made mistakes and promising to make things up to Seonghwa, and yet Seonghwa still couldn’t handle it any better than he did the first time. He didn’t want to get emotional over a phone call. 

“Seonghwa,” said Hongjoong, once he’d finally gotten over the surprise of Seonghwa picking up. “I’m really sorry. Can you please not ignore me anymore?”

“What are you saying sorry for?” asked Seonghwa. Childish, maybe, but he couldn’t help it.

“Everything,” said Hongjoong without hesitation. “For not wanting San and Yunho to know about us. For not even asking you how you felt about it, fuck, I’m so sorry. For not trying to get to know Jongho, for not trusting Mingi—”

Seonghwa swallowed but said nothing. 

“I’m really sorry,” said Hongjoong. “I’ve been so selfish and I don’t really know how to make it up to you but I have to try. So can you please not do this?”

For some time Seonghwa was silent, and Hongjoong did not interrupt. He just let Seonghwa turn his words over in his head. The apology was nice. Seonghwa appreciated hearing the words, but more than that he appreciated hearing Hongjoong’s voice as he said them, hearing the sincerity and near desperation. Hongjoong did love Seonghwa. He didn’t want to lose him. 

And Seonghwa didn’t want to lose Hongjoong either. Not now, or ever. 

“Hongjoong,” he said quietly.

“Peach?”

Seonghwa’s heart pounded at the nickname. Hongjoong always said it so sweetly. “Hongjoong,” he said again. He couldn’t keep putting it off. “Do you think San did the right thing?”

He heard Hongjoong groan in frustration. It always came back to this. “It doesn’t matter what I think,” said Hongjoong. “That’s them, we’re us. I’m not—I won’t break up with you over this.”

“But you think San made the right choice,” said Seonghwa. “You think he was right to leave Wooyoung over it, even though he never wanted San to turn any time soon.”

“That was San’s decision,” said Hongjoong. A pause. “But, yeah, I think it was brave of him to break things off early, since he knew neither of them would change their minds.”

“You don’t know that,” said Seonghwa. Just say it. Tell me. “You don’t know San wouldn’t change his mind, that—”

He stopped, took a moment to collect himself. He couldn’t get emotional again. He didn’t want Hongjoong to hear him cry. 

“Seonghwa, come on,” said Hongjoong, voice quiet. “Why do we keep circling back to this? We’re not them. I’m not going to leave you.”

But he wouldn’t say it. He wouldn’t tell Seonghwa what he needed to hear. 

“I miss you.”

Warmth flooded Seonghwa’s heart. Hongjoong hardly ever said things like this. It was such a far cry from the Hongjoong he’d first met so many months ago, the redheaded fae that shut everything up inside him like every little show of emotion was too precious to let go. That Hongjoong had been so weighed down, so closed off. 

And now Hongjoong told Seonghwa that he missed him.

“This is so dumb, because I saw you literally last week, but I can’t stop myself,” said Hongjoong with what sounded like an amused if bitter laugh. “I got too used to having you around.”

Seonghwa looked down at his lap, chewing his lip. He was weak when it came to Hongjoong, he always would be. “You’re home, right?” he asked. “I can come to the front gate. We can talk in person.”

“Right now?” An edge touched Hongjoong’s voice. “I can’t.”

“Why?” Seonghwa frowned. “What are you doing?”

“Nothing, I just can’t meet you tonight,” said Hongjoong. “What about on Tuesday?”

“Are you serious?” asked Seonghwa in disbelief. “What are you doing that’s so important? You can’t even see me now?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t,” said Hongjoong. “I do want to see you. It’s just… I can’t explain it. Can we please meet on Tuesday, or after?”

“No,” said Seonghwa. He was upset again, the warm feeling of being told he was missed quickly disappearing. “No, we can’t. If you really missed me you wouldn’t be rescheduling me like a doctor’s appointment.” 

“It’s complicated—”

“No, it’s not,” said Seonghwa. He just needed Hongjoong to say a few simple words, but he wouldn’t, he refused to, and Seonghwa didn’t want to hear anymore. “Don’t call me for the rest of the night. I don’t want to talk to you.”

“Don’t hang up,” said Hongjoong quickly. “I’m sorry, I swear, can we just talk about what you really want to talk about? Just—talk to me, Peach.”

Seonghwa bit his lower lip. “Bye, Hongjoong.”

He didn’t end the call, not immediately. He waited a few seconds, to see if Hongjoong would finally say what Seonghwa needed him to, but he didn’t. He didn’t say anything at all. Seonghwa ended the call, cutting off the silence.

And then he sat in his parked car, staring at his fists balled up in his lap. That hadn’t gone how he’d hoped. Hongjoong had apologized, but he’d apologized enough times already, and the truth was Seonghwa didn’t care so much about that. He just needed Hongjoong to tell him everything would be okay, that they would be together. 

Seonghwa needed Hongjoong to tell him he would turn.

He didn’t need Hongjoong to turn now. He wanted Hongjoong to enjoy his life as a human, enjoy all the things Seonghwa had missed and couldn’t enjoy. But he needed that promise. He needed to know Hongjoong was open to turning, even if it was decades in the future. That he wasn’t like San. 

Seonghwa knew he was being a coward not asking Hongjoong directly, but he was scared. He was scared of what Hongjoong’s answer might be. 

Things were changing, and Seonghwa couldn’t bear it. Not without Hongjoong. 

The mood in the house was subdued when Seonghwa returned. Jongho sat on one of the couches, so absorbed in watching something on his phone he barely raised his head in greeting as Seonghwa entered the living room. Yeosang sat on the long sofa opposite.

“Hyung,” he said. “Everything okay?”

“Fine,” lied Seonghwa. He saw Yeosang’s brow furrow, and spoke before the pretty vampire could call him out on the pathetic lie, saying, “Where’s Wooyoung?”

“On the phone,” said Yeosang. His face was perfectly blank as he spoke, but Seonghwa could guess his feelings.

Since the breakup Wooyoung had been calling San relentlessly, desperately trying to get him to give them another chance. If Wooyoung was awake, he was calling San, or texting him, or asking Mingi to ask Yunho to find out how he was. Seonghwa didn’t know how well his efforts would work. If Yunho knew how San viewed getting back together he hadn’t told Mingi, or he had and Mingi hid it from Seonghwa and the others. Of course, Seonghwa couldn’t ask Hongjoong. 

“Do you think it’ll work?” asked Seonghwa. “Do you think San will take him back?”

“I don’t know,” murmured Yeosang, eyes fixed on the stairs. 

“I hope he doesn’t.”

Seonghwa turned to Jongho, shocked. “You can’t mean that,” he said. “They love each other.” 

“For now,” said Jongho. No emotion showed on his face. “Things change.”

“Some love doesn’t go away,” said Seonghwa. 

Jongho shook his head. “It’s better if they don’t get back together,” he said.

“Why?” Seonghwa didn’t understand. Jongho liked San, and he loved Wooyoung, he would want him to be happy. 

But Jongho just shrugged and went back to his phone.

“Jongho—” started Seonghwa, but stopped as he noticed Yeosang suddenly sit up straight. 

Seconds later Wooyoung barreled down the stairs. 

He was bursting with excitement, eyes lit up, hair a mess from where he’d probably run his fingers through it a hundred times. “He said he’d meet me,” he said, tone high with euphoria. “He said we can meet later in the week, he said we can talk and—and—” He broke off, too excited to even speak. 

“San did?” asked Seonghwa eagerly. When Wooyoung nodded, he smiled wide and said, “Oh, Wooyoung, I’m so glad. I’m sure it’ll work out.”

He reached out for Wooyoung, and took him into a hug. Wooyoung squeezed back tight. “I hope so too,” he said. He let go of Seonghwa and immediately turned to Yeosang, bouncing with happiness. “Yeosangie, San said he wants to meet me, he wants to talk.”

Yeosang did not mirror his enthusiasm. “I’m sorry, Woo, but you shouldn’t get your hopes up too high,” he said. “He might not—agree to restart your relationship.”

“What?” cried Wooyoung. “How could you say that?”

“Did he say he wanted to get back together?” asked Yeosang.

Wooyoung’s excitement dimmed. “No. He just said he wanted to talk.”

“Which is why you shouldn’t get too ahead of yourself,” said Yeosang. He sighed. “I just don’t want you to get hurt again.”

“I can’t get any more hurt than this,” said Wooyoung.

Yeosang had nothing to say that, turning his face away. 

“Things will be okay,” said Seonghwa, wrapping an am around Wooyoung once more. “San obviously loves you. He’s probably reconsidering. But I think Yeosang’s right too, you shouldn’t get too ahead of yourself.”

“Yeah, thanks, hyung,” said Wooyoung. He hugged Seonghwa back briefly, and then went to Yeosang, slotting in against his side. 

Seonghwa watched them a moment. He was glad that whatever crack that had set between them before had been overcome. Seonghwa gave Wooyoung as much support as he could, but it was obvious the only reason Wooyoung was getting through his painful time was Yeosang. He relied on him more than anyone and anything. A touch of envy settled in Seonghwa’s chest. That had been him and Taehee, before her death. 

On instinct he looked at Jongho. Jongho watched Wooyoung and Yeosang with a strange fascination, different from the usual longing Seonghwa often caught in his gaze. He pursed his lips, and then went back to his phone like nothing had happened.

“Jongho,” said Seonghwa. “Would you mind coming with me a moment? I want to talk to you.”

Obediently Jongho put aside his phone and followed Seonghwa to the foot of the staircase. He looked at Seonghwa with eyes of innocent curiosity, so pure and open, and Seonghwa felt his heart flood with love. Things might change but he could still take care of this boy. 

“Hey,” he said gently. “Is everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine,” said Jongho, surprised by the question. “Why do you ask?”

“No reason,” said Seonghwa. “Just… you’ve been quiet recently. I don’t see you around much.”

“I don’t leave the house,” said Jongho.

Regret struck Seonghwa. “I’m sorry, I know I’ve been busy,” he said. “It’s just things have been happening, with Hongjoong and—”

“I know,” said Jongho. “You don’t have to apologize to me, hyung. I’m not upset.”

But it felt like Jongho was. If not about Seonghwa’s absence then about something else, or a combination of it all, and Seonghwa didn’t know how to fix it. “Hey,” he said softly. “You know I love you.”

“Yuck,” said Jongho, laughing and making a face. “Don’t get icky on me.”

“I’m serious,” said Seonghwa, and he really was. “You know what I said, about how some love doesn’t go away? It’s not only romantic love. That’s you and me, Jongho. And everyone else in the coven too.”

Jongho said nothing. The smile had disappeared from his face, replaced with a blank expression Seonghwa couldn’t read. Seonghwa attempted an encouraging smile and a nod. 

“If there’s anything bothering you, you can always talk to me,” he said.

Jongho was silent a while longer, apparently thinking Seonghwa’s words over. Then he said, “Thank you, hyung. That means a lot.”

“And I mean it,” said Seonghwa. “Anything at all.”

“Okay,” said Jongho. “Can I go back now? I was kind of in the middle of a program.”

“Yeah, sure,” said Seonghwa. He propped up another smile, and Jongho returned it before heading back to the living room, where Wooyoung poked at Yeosang and talked loudly about some other friend of his, any traces of displeasure forgotten. 

Seonghwa went upstairs, feeling rather unsettled. Things were happening in his house that were not only out of his control but out of his knowledge. He didn’t want Jongho to creep back into his shell, close himself off, and he’d thought they were past that. But every night felt like another step backwards, another slow change Seonghwa couldn’t stop.

Before heading to his room, he knocked on the door to Mingi and Wooyoung’s. He heard the sound of movement inside, and then the door opened to reveal Mingi holding his phone, earphones plugged in. “Oh, hyung, hey,” he said, smile on his face. “What’s up?”

“Nothing, just wanted to see how you were doing,” said Seonghwa. “How are you doing?”

“Great,” said Mingi. “I’m on a video call with Yunho. Wanna talk to him?”

Seonghwa blinked in surprise at the unexpected offer, and then relaxed and smiled. “I’d love to,” he said.

Yunho greeted Seonghwa with a warm smile and a polite nod of the head. Seonghwa laughed his formal introduction off.

“I’m not that old,” he said, grinning.

“If you say so,” said Yunho, with a quick glance at Mingi who was snorting. “Hey, I wanted to say sorry again.”

“For what?” asked Seonghwa.

“The attacking you in our kitchen thing,” said Yunho. “I had no idea you were Hongjoong-hyung’s… person. I’m sorry for threatening to hit you with a potted plant, sincerely.”

“Oh, that’s nothing, I’m not upset at all,” said Seonghwa, waving the apology away. He grinned. “It was pretty cool of you to defend your house like that. Mingi probably would’ve screamed his head off and run away.”

“Shut up,” hissed Mingi, and he looked so pissed Seonghwa only laughed more.

“That’s cool,” said Yunho with an easy smile. “He has someone to protect him anyway.” 

He looked at Mingi, eyes warm with fondness, and Mingi laughed in delight. Seonghwa, forgotten, watched them. Yunho looked at Mingi like he was a star walking the Earth. Seonghwa had never seen Mingi look so full of life. He’d always been a positive person, but he was glowing now with Yunho talking to him, features coming alive with happiness and content. He really did look like a star on Earth.

“I have something I need to check on,” said Seonghwa. “It was nice talking to you again, Yunho. Catch you later, Mingi.”

“Oh, yeah, sure,” said Mingi, barely paying attention. Yunho bowed in farewell, and Seonghwa chuckled and nodded his head in return before leaving the room.

Outside in the hallway, everything was quiet. Seonghwa could just make out Wooyoung’s loud voice from downstairs, but even that sounded muted, forced. No matter how Wooyoung might deny it, he wasn’t so certain San would take him back. 

Seonghwa prayed he did. He hoped for it more than almost anything. For Wooyoung’s sake, and San’s. For his own. If San came around, then maybe Hongjoong… 

He shook his head, trying to throw the thought aside. It was like he’d told Wooyoung. He couldn’t get ahead of himself. Even if Hongjoong did call Seonghwa and ask him to go see him, even if he threw himself into Seonghwa’s arms and held him tight and told him he loved him and he wanted to turn and be with him forever, it wouldn’t fix everything. 

But it would help. 

Things were changing. Seonghwa could feel it happen, even if he couldn’t see exactly what shifted in the shadows out of his sight. Maybe things would surprise him and change for the better. 

 

✤✥✣✥✤

 

“I need your help.”

Jongho pulled one earbud out. “Hmm?”

“I need your help,” said Mingi again. “Please.”

He looked serious. More serious than Jongho had ever seen him, brow furrowed, features painted with distress. Slowly Jongho locked his phone and put it away. “What’s up?” he asked.

Mingi chewed his bottom lip, and then sat down on the bed opposite Jongho. “You can’t tell Seonghwa-hyung,” he said. 

Unease fluttered in Jongho’s gut. “Why?” he asked, but he had a feeling he already knew.

Mingi didn’t answer. He just ruffled his hair, mussing it up vigorously until it was a mess of brown on his head. His teeth sunk into his bottom lip until Jongho was sure it would bleed.

And then, finally, Mingi swallowed and said, “I’m going to meet Yunho.”

There it was. Jongho said nothing, let the silence sink in until Mingi was squirming. When it had gone on long enough, he asked, “And why do you need me?”

“There’s no risk,” said Mingi quickly, too quick. “There’s no chance I’ll hurt him, I know I won’t, it’s perfectly safe. I would never do anything that would put Yunho in danger. I would never agree to this if I wasn’t totally sure he’d be okay.” He squirmed. “But… just in case…”

“You want me to hold you back,” said Jongho.

“Just in case,” said Mingi, seemingly relieved he hadn’t had to say it himself. “Just in case, y’know, just as a failsafe—”

“If you’re not sure you shouldn’t meet him,” said Jongho.

“I am,” said Mingi at once. “I am, totally, sure.”

But Jongho wasn’t convinced. “You shouldn’t have him be the first human you try being around in six years,” he said. Mingi should try another human first, someone more expendable. If Yunho got hurt both Mingi and Seonghwa would be upset.

“No, it has to be him,” said Mingi. “It won’t work if it’s not him.”

“Love is not a real thing,” said Jongho.

The look Mingi gave him rattled Jongho to the core. Confused, and pitying, hurt, like Jongho had personally attacked him with his words. 

Jongho moved to explain himself. “I mean, your love for him isn’t going to give him magical protection or make you suddenly normal,” he said. “It’s not like a magic cure or spell.”

“Oh,” said Mingi, relief flooding in. “No, I don’t think it’s because I—because of that. It’s Yunho’s scent. I’m—I’m used to it.”

This was something new. “What do you mean, used to it?” asked Jongho. 

“It’s hard to explain,” said Mingi. He shifted on the bed, brought his legs up to cross them under him. “A couple of weeks ago Yunho started sending me stuff. His stuff. Like his sweaters and clothes and things.”

“Please don’t tell me about your lovey dovey couple shit,” said Jongho, cracking a smile. “I really don’t wanna hear about your lovey dovey couple shit.”

“No, this is important,” said Mingi. “He sent me all this stuff that was, like, drowning in his scent. And it smelled really good, y’know, so good it almost drove me crazy—”

Jongho fought a cringe. He really was not joking when he said he did not want to hear it.

“But then it got better,” said Mingi, eyes wide and serious. “It was weird, but it got better. Like I could still tell how good it smelled but it—it didn’t make me hungry. That craving got easier. It started fading the more time I spent around his scent, until it just… it’s not like thirst anymore. It’s just… I smell it. That’s it.”

Jongho looked into Mingi’s gaze, uncertain how to feel. “You’re saying you got used to the scent of him?” he asked. “You accustomed yourself to his scent over weeks?”

Mingi nodded.

“I didn’t know you could do that,” said Jongho. He still didn’t know if Mingi had. Maybe he was just deceiving himself. 

“I didn’t know either,” said Mingi. “I never really tried before. I wasn’t trying with Yunho. It just… happened.”

“And you think it’s good enough for you to see Yunho in person?” asked Jongho. 

“I wouldn’t have agreed if I didn’t,” said Mingi.

Jongho fell silent, turning this information over in his mind. It didn’t seem unlikely. He’d learned of all sorts of experiments conducted on animals and humans alike, how gradual change could get organisms accustomed to the most extreme things. People had built tolerance to lethal poison by ingesting small amounts at a time over a long period. But could it work with bloodthirst? 

Jongho didn’t know. He didn’t want to take the risk. If something went wrong, Mingi would be devastated, and Seonghwa would be mad at Jongho. He didn’t want that.

But Mingi was staring at him with an intent, determined gaze, eyes warm and sincere. He was counting on Jongho. He’d sought out Jongho for help. Jongho was cold and broken and had been thrown away by his maker, but Mingi needed him.

“When?” 

Mingi blinked, confused. “When what?”

“When are you meeting him?” asked Jongho. “When do you need me?”

It took a moment. The understanding slowly spread on Mingi’s features, taking up every inch of them before it was just as quickly swallowed up by happiness. “You mean it?” he asked, voice hushed under the weight of his emotions. “You’ll help me out?”

Jongho nodded.

Mingi dove forward and pulled him into a hug.

Jongho stilled, not knowing how to react. Mingi didn’t often show affection like this. Thankfully it didn’t last more than a few seconds, and Mingi was soon pulling away, looking sheepish but still aglow with joy.

“Sorry,” he said, though he didn’t look very sorry. “Sorry, I got carried away. Just—thank you. It makes me feel so much better knowing you’ll be there. Thank you, Jongho.”

“It’s nothing,” said Jongho, but that was a lie. It felt like a lot to him. 

“Okay, we’re meeting here Wednesday night,” said Mingi. “San is gonna go out to meet Wooyoung then, and Yunho doesn’t wanna tell him what we’re doing. San’s like a bloodhound, he’ll definitely get it out of Yunho if he’s home.”

“So Wooyoung-hyung will be out of the house,” said Jongho. “And Seonghwa-hyung and Yeosang-hyung? I’m guessing you don’t want them knowing either.”

“Definitely not,” said Mingi, nodding with a serious expression. He looked like a big kid, and Jongho almost felt something like fondness for him. “Yeosang will probably get out of the house, he likes taking those long walks. Even if he doesn’t, he probably won’t hear anything, he shuts himself up in his room watching videos all night. Seonghwa-hyung will go out like he always does.”

“He’s fighting with Hongjoong,” said Jongho. “He might not.” It felt a little strange, knowing that and knowing that it was not his fault, like he had learned the wrong thing. 

“For now,” said Mingi dismissively. “Yunho told me, Hongjoong’s super desperate to fix things. They’ll make up before then, or hyung will go see him then to make up.”

He sounded confident. Jongho guessed he had reason to be. After all, Seonghwa and Hongjoong had no reason to fall apart. Seonghwa was warm and bursting with love, enough love to spill over onto even Jongho. Hongjoong was just the right amount of broken to draw him. Cracked gemstones were always the most special. 

“Then it’ll be just us,” said Mingi. He leaned forward, eyes focused on Jongho. “You can do it, right? You can help me and Yunho?”

He looked so sincere, so desperate. Jongho was broken in all the ways Mingi was not, and yet now Mingi turned to him, he needed him to evolve and patch his cracks over. Mingi was evolving. He was leaving Jongho behind him, he was adapting and would survive when the system died and Jongho’s peace died with it. He would live and thrive while Jongho would sit in the ruins of his life scattered around him like wreckage. Because Jongho was broken, and Mingi was repairing himself. 

And yet. And yet Jongho could not imagine refusing.

He smiled, and nodded. 

Chapter Text

Nausea choked Mingi’s throat, tightening around it in a vice grip. He felt queasy deep in his gut, and it was rising up in his chest too, a feeling he never remembered experiencing before. He hated it. He felt like he was going to die. He was probably going to die.

“Calm down,” said Jongho. “Now you’re making me nervous.” 

The two of them were in the spare room downstairs, surrounded by a bunch of old furniture, paintings, boxes of clothes and knickknacks, all covered by a thick layer of dust. Mingi had picked this room to be in when he finally saw Yunho. It faced the front gate, so he could see when Wooyoung and Seonghwa left, and they wouldn’t be seen by Yeosang if he left for his walk through the back. Yunho would be able to get in and out of the compound easy too. Mingi had planned everything, but the stupid feeling in his chest wouldn’t go away. 

“I can’t help it,” said Mingi. “What if something goes wrong? What if he sees me go crazy and decides he doesn’t wanna be with a freak?” 

“Okay, first off, you don’t get to call yourself that,” said Jongho, voice flat. “Second, nothing’s gonna go wrong. I’m here, aren’t I? And I’m the most dependable person in this house.”

He was right. Jongho never let any of them down. The thought made Mingi feel better, even if the queasiness didn’t disappear all the way. “Thanks,” he said. “I wouldn’t be able to do this without you.”

“You could’ve asked Yeosang-hyung,” said Jongho. “You’re gonna stay inside the house and Yunho will be outside anyway, Yeosang-hyung could handle you. They know each other too. I’m sure Yunho would rather have him listening in on you guys being mushy.”

“No, it has to be you,” said Mingi, shaking his head. “You’re the most dependable, right? So I need you.”

Jongho looked at Mingi for a long moment, and then he said, “Okay.”

“You remember the plan?” asked Mingi. “You keep a hand on me the entire time. If you think I’m gonna lose it, pull me away from the window so Yunho won’t see me like that.”  

Jongho nodded. 

So they waited. About an hour later Yunho sent a text that he and San had left the house, kicking Mingi’s nervousness up again. Almost an hour after that Wooyoung still hadn’t left. 

“Why doesn’t he go already?” asked Mingi, pacing the room. He was full of excess energy he didn’t know what to do with. “He’s late. San is waiting. Yunho is waiting.”

“Calm down already,” said Jongho. “You said they’re meeting at the club, right? That’s not too far from here.”

“He’s still super late,” said Mingi.  

Jongho tapped Mingi on the arm, drawing his attention. He looked through the window and saw Wooyoung finally leaving, heading towards the front gate. There was something wrong with him, and it took Mingi a minute before he realized what. He wasn’t wearing a jacket. He wasn’t wearing any warm clothes at all, just walking in the winter night in his jeans and short-sleeved T-shirt. 

“Is he crazy?” muttered Jongho. “Just because he’s going to the club doesn’t mean he should scream he’s a vampire.” 

They watched him go, and then Seonghwa left too, minutes after Wooyoung. Mingi watched his car leave, heart pounding in his chest. Yeosang’s room was on the opposite side of the house from the spare room they were in, so he wouldn’t notice anything. It was time.

Mingi sent a quick text to Yunho telling him everything was clear. Yunho replied within seconds, sending back great! i’m coming and Mingi was absolutely, completely sure he was going to throw up now.

“Hey, I can’t throw up, right?” he asked. “Like, physically? Do vampires throw up?”

Jongho narrowed his eyes at him. “If you throw up on me, I’m leaving,” he said.

Mingi swallowed. He didn’t want to mess this up, but he was just so nervous. He’d never done something like this before. What if he said something stupid? What if he said something so stupid Yunho decided he wasn’t worth all the effort, what if—

“Is that him?”

The words yanked Mingi back to the present. He went to Jongho at the window, heart pounding so hard it was choking him. He could see someone coming through the front gate—tall, in a light brown coat, hair tucked under a thick beanie.

It was Yunho.

“Oh, god,” groaned Mingi.

“Relax,” said Jongho. “Look at him. He’s relaxed.”

He was. The closer Yunho got, the better Mingi could see him. He was smiling. He looked so happy, like it was almost too much for him to carry. Mingi saw Yunho smile all the time, but this was different. He was shining.

Mingi stood rooted in front of the window, even as Jongho moved aside and took his position to his right. Yunho walked towards the closed window, and he got brighter and brighter with every step, until he was right there, right in front of Mingi, shining like a brilliant star. 

“Hey,” said Yunho.

And just like that, all the nervousness was gone. All the tension, all the anxiety—it all became less than the wind. 

Yunho was here. Yunho was here with Mingi. 

“Hi,” said Mingi, bursting into a smile.

Yunho smiled back at him. 

“Hi, I’m Jongho,” said Jongho, and Mingi jumped. He’d forgotten Jongho was even there. “I’m here just—just. Pretend like I don’t even exist.”

“Hey, it’s great meeting you,” said Yunho, and Mingi was actually upset. He didn’t like Yunho looking and smiling at anyone else right then. “Thanks for this. Ming wouldn’t agree without you.” He looked back at Mingi, and his eyes were so warm everything was okay again.

“No problem,” said Jongho. “I’m opening the window now. Is that okay, hyung?”

Mingi nodded, eyes still fixed on Yunho. He could sense the faint trickle of his scent sneaking in between the panes, that sweet, familiar scent. “Yeah, it’s okay. I’ll be okay.”

Jongho nodded once, and then he opened the latch and pushed the window open.

The scent of Yunho’s blood hit Mingi like a flood. It was a million times stronger than he’d ever smelled it before, so heavy he could feel it sink into his veins through his skin. It called to him like a siren song. Mingi couldn’t remember the last time he’d been this thirsty, this desperate to feed. He felt Jongho’s iron grip tighten around his wrist, but he didn’t think he’d feel it even if he crushed his bones to powder. Mingi’s fangs extended.

Someone was talking. Mingi could hear the sound, but he couldn’t make out any words. Everything felt clouded. The only thing that made sense, the only thing that cut through the fog with the deadly sharpness of a knife, was the hunger. The thirst.

Blood. There was blood before Mingi. Warm, fresh, divine blood, right in front of him, and he could take, he could slake his thirst right now—

He knew the scent of this blood, and he’d craved it so bad for so long—

Yes, Mingi knew the scent. It was so sweet, it was so pure, it was—

It was Yunho.

It wasn’t just blood that was before Mingi. It was Yunho. It wasn’t blood that called to him, that was talking to him now. It was Yunho.

Yunho.

Mingi took in a deep breath. It flooded his lungs, clearing them out with a deep exhale. The fog drained away. The scent remained, heavy in the air, sitting on his skin, his tongue, but that’s where it stayed. Outside him. 

Mingi wanted to feed. He wanted. But he could think. 

He could control himself.

“Ming?” Yunho’s voice was soft, careful. “You okay?”

Mingi swallowed. “I—I’m okay.”

Yunho smiled, the relief showing on his face. “Yeah? I knew you could do it.”

“I couldn’t, without you,” said Mingi. “Thank you.”

But Yunho just laughed and shook his head. “This is all you,” he said. “You’re doing this. You’re amazing.” 

He sounded so sincere Mingi had to smile.

Jongho sat on the floor, back against the wall under the window, hand ready around Mingi’s ankle. Mingi barely paid attention to him. Yunho was outside so he was a little lower than him, around half a foot. Mingi had the perfect angle to just look at him, fix everything about him into his memory. 

“What are you looking at?” asked Yunho, grinning.

“Nothing,” said Mingi. “You’re really short, you know. Way shorter than I thought.”

Yunho laughed. “Bet I’m taller than you.”

“Nope, never,” said Mingi. 

“Why don’t you let me in and we’ll check?” asked Yunho.

“Maybe—maybe another time,” said Mingi, heartbeat speeding up. This was already so much. 

The smile on Yunho’s face grew. “Another time,” he said. “Yeah? Promise?”

Mingi nodded, heart racing. 

“This is pretty sweet too,” said Yunho. “Visiting the princess in the tower.” He chuckled a little nervously. “You look beautiful, Ming.”

“Shut up,” said Mingi, embarrassed, hiding his face behind a hand. 

“I mean it,” insisted Yunho. “You look—you look amazing. You’re great in pictures too, but right now it’s—I don’t even know what to say.”

He sounded breathless. Mingi felt kind of breathless too. 

“You too,” he said, and he sounded dumb but it was the truth. Yunho’s eyes sparkled whenever he smiled. Now he looked like an entire galaxy all by himself. 

“Yeah?” Yunho grinned. “I have a surprise for you.”

“A surprise?” Mingi bounced on his heels. Was it another present? Mingi didn’t need any more presents, he had Yunho in front of him.

In reply, Yunho pulled the beanie off his head. 

His hair was silver. His hair was perfect, flawless white, like the full moon. It was fluffy and messy on his head, and Yunho ran his fingers through the starlight strands, trying to tame it all while he looked up at Mingi with the biggest smile.

“Oh.” Mingi couldn’t form words. “Oh, my god.”

He reached out his hand without thinking. Yunho leaned forward. Mingi’s fingers sank into the snow softness, running through the strands. He wasn’t even sure what he was doing.

“You like it?” asked Yunho, still smiling like a star. 

Mingi nodded, entranced.

“Good, I dyed it for you,” said Yunho. He hesitated. “Is it—can I hold your hand, Ming?”

Mingi stopped moving his hand. Yunho gazed up at him with his eyes so big and warm. 

“Please,” said Mingi.

Slowly, Yunho reached up. His fingers interlocked with Mingi’s. His hand was just the perfect size to fit against Mingi’s, their fingers interlaced like they were made to fit. Mingi relaxed in his hold. Yunho’s skin was smooth.  

Mingi remembered asking Jongho, way too long ago, what warmth was. He’d been so curious, because it seemed so special and important in all the books and movies, but he couldn’t remember from when he’d been human and he couldn’t even imagine what it might be like.

Right now, hand tightly locked with Yunho’s, Mingi thought he understood.

“I’m so happy right now.” The words slipped out before Mingi could stop them.

Yunho smiled back at him, bright like a star. “Me too.”

They talked, about everything and nothing. Mingi had no idea how much time he spent at that window. All that mattered was Yunho’s voice, his laugh, his hand tight around Mingi’s. Mingi half wanted to jump out the window and hug him tight, but he couldn’t risk it, not with the thirst still tugging under his skin.

It was Yunho who noticed first. He looked over his shoulder, still holding Mingi’s hand, and said, “I think your Seonghwa-hyung is back, Ming.”

That snapped Mingi out of his daze. “Oh, no,” he said, seeing the car at the gates. “You need to go.”

“Why?” asked Yunho.

“Why? You’re not supposed to be here,” said Mingi frantically. Seonghwa might’ve already seen them! 

“We’re not kids,” said Yunho. “Everything’s fine. I think it’d be good if we talked to Seonghwa-hyung, actually. He’ll see you’re getting better.”

Mingi didn’t know how to respond to that. Jongho got up to look out the window too, reminding both Mingi and Yunho that he was still there, and they both jumped. 

“Hey, it’s okay,” said Yunho. “I’ll handle it, if you’re worried.”

He sounded so confident, Mingi was swayed. Yunho was right. Seonghwa would be happy about this. He’d be glad Mingi was becoming normal. 

Mingi nodded. Yunho looked at him and smiled, and then took his hand in his again as the car pulled into the driveway.

 

✤✥✣✥✤

 

Yeosang knew he was there even before he heard the knock on the door. 

He didn’t need to say anything. A second later Wooyoung entered the room, chewing on his bottom lip. Yeosang put aside his phone and sat up, moving to the middle of his bed. Wooyoung went and sat next to him without having to be told. 

“I’m kind of scared,” said Wooyoung. 

Yeosang fought the rising tide of emotion in his chest. “It’s okay.”

There was nothing more to say. It was Wednesday night. In a few minutes Wooyoung would leave to meet San for the first time since they broke up. 

Wooyoung was nervous, and though Yeosang tried to hide it he was too. He didn’t know what Wooyoung would end this night with. Heartbreak, closure, understanding. New hope.

The uncertainty was what cut Yeosang up inside. He just didn’t know. Maybe San wanted to end things cleanly. Maybe he just wanted to tell him straight there was no chance. But what if he did want to get back together with Wooyoung? What if these few days without him had been enough for San to realize he needed Wooyoung, that he was worth giving up his human nature for? 

A storm of mixed emotions churned at the thought. Wooyoung would be happy, Yeosang knew. The Wooyoung he’d lived with over the past few days was a poor, warped copy of the beautiful man he’d known nearly all his life. Only a few points of emotions in a spectrum that was mostly blank, hollow like some clay shell fueled by one singular purpose—getting San back by his side. Wooyoung’s happiness had always been the most important thing in Yeosang’s life, and San made Wooyoung happy. 

But Yeosang didn’t know if he’d be able to survive it. 

“He’ll take me back, right?” asked Wooyoung, leaning his head against Yeosang’s shoulder. “That’s why he wants to meet. He’ll take me back.”

“I don’t know,” said Yeosang honestly.

“If he wanted me to get lost, he would’ve just told me over the phone,” said Wooyoung, but it sounded like he was convincing himself, not Yeosang. “He would’ve blocked my number. That would’ve sent the message. The fact that he wants to see me face to face is a good thing.”

“We can’t know until you talk to him,” said Yeosang. 

“Yeah,” said Wooyoung. “Right. We’ll find out when I talk to him.” He shifted. “Are you sure you don’t wanna come with me?”

Yeosang thought of San, and his careful, distant manner with him. “I don’t think he’d want me there, Woo.”

“But I do,” said Wooyoung. “Just—just in case…” 

Yeosang said nothing. He wouldn’t go. This was between Wooyoung and San, he wasn’t wanted. He wouldn’t go to watch the two of them reconcile and kiss and hold each other. 

“What if he doesn’t want to get back together?” Wooyoung’s voice was quiet. “What if he just wants to—to say goodbye for the last time?”

“Maybe,” said Yeosang. He didn’t know what else to say. The hope in his gut filled him with guilt, and he tried to force it down. He could make Wooyoung happy too. He could make him just as happy as San had. 

“I can’t be without him,” said Wooyoung. “I know I’ve been with a lot of people, but he’s different. He’s special.” 

“So are you,” said Yeosang. 

“No, you don’t understand,” said Wooyoung, shaking his head where it leaned against Yeosang’s shoulder. “He’s not like the other people. He’s not like anyone else. He’s—he’s phenomenal.”

“Wooyoung,” said Yeosang softly. “So are you.”

Wooyoung moved, raising his head to look at Yeosang. At the same time Yeosang turned to face him.

He was so close. Yeosang’s nose brushed against Wooyoung’s, lips only inches apart. Wooyoung’s features were a blur, and all Yeosang could think of was how close he was, how easy it would be to just lean forward and kiss him. The solid weight of Wooyoung’s arm was against his, not a hair breadth’s space between, and Yeosang could feel Wooyoung as still as stone beside him, caught in the air that had claimed him. 

Wooyoung’s lips parted. 

Yeosang kissed him.

He didn’t think about it. He couldn’t. His body moved of its own accord, and before Yeosang could stop himself he was moving forward, pressing his lips to Wooyoung’s. Time slowed, stopped. Neither of them moved.

And then Wooyoung kissed him back.

Everything else fell away. All Yeosang could feel was Wooyoung, the movement of his lips. Slow at first, unsure, and then slowly growing more confident. Yeosang rested his hand on Wooyoung’s cheek. Wooyoung’s tongue prodded at the seam of his mouth, and Yeosang parted his lips for him without a second thought. 

Wooyoung tasted like everything Yeosang had ever dreamed of. He buried his fingers in his hair, pulled him as close as he could, desperately chasing that taste. Yeosang was only vaguely aware of moving, until Wooyoung’s body gave underneath his, falling back onto the bed. Yeosang felt dizzy. Everything was happening so fast, but it all felt so right. So long overdue.

Wooyoung pulled away for a second to gasp in a breath he didn’t need. The thought was exhilarating, knowing Yeosang had done this to him, made him need air like this. He leaned over Wooyoung, sinking lower to press his body against his as he kissed him again, and again, and again.

“Wait,” said Wooyoung, as he pulled away for a second. Yeosang chased his lips for another kiss, barely registering what he was saying. “Yeosangie…” 

“Yes,” breathed out Yeosang, leaving another lingering kiss at the corner of Wooyoung’s mouth. 

“We can’t,” said Wooyoung, but he kissed Yeosang back anyway. “Slow down, just… a second…”

“Yeah,” said Yeosang. He was barely listening, eyes closed, forehead against Wooyoung’s. He could smell him, his weak, delicate scent, and it was intoxicating. 

“I… San—”

Yeosang froze.

“I need to see San,” said Wooyoung. “San’s waiting for me, he—”

He kept talking, but Yeosang wasn’t listening anymore. Even now. Even now when he had Yeosang, all Wooyoung thought about was San. 

Not Yeosang. San. 

All at once everything was obvious. It was meaningless. Wooyoung didn’t want Yeosang. He’d never wanted Yeosang. 

All he wanted was San. 

Yeosang got up and off him. He sat back on his heels and watched Wooyoung prop himself up on his elbows to look at him. There was a look in his eyes Yeosang couldn’t read, but he hated it and the way it sunk into his skin. 

He wrapped his arms around his middle, holding himself up, holding himself in. Something was collapsing inside him, and the broken edges of it were as sharp as knives inside his chest. Yeosang was so scared they were going to pierce through. He took deep, heaving breaths, trying to calm himself, but it was useless. He was going to break.

Wooyoung was staring at him, eyes wide,