Pairing: eventual n/leo, hyuk/ken, hongbin/ravi
Word count: 9,200
Summary: Taekwoon had always found the adaptability of humans amazing, though he’d never found himself to be the best at it. And he’d never thought he’d be able to live this way, with a silent heart and blood in his mouth. (Or the one in which Taekwoon is the hunter, and Hakyeon is the monster).
A/N: I had like a mini-writing crisis last week, i just had a meltdown where i was like I HATE ALL THE THINGS and was contemplating taking this fic down and rewriting it. i decided, in the end, to just push forward and do better !!! if i still hate it by the time i finish the fic i might rewrite the first few chapters then, but for now... i will leave them be.
a huge thank you to rara for writing some of this chapter for me when i was having a hard time :c u da real mvp bb
The breeze played softly across Hakyeon’s hair, ruffling it lightly. He perched on the roof of the house opposite Taekwoon’s, crouched in the shadow of the chimney stack. It was dark, quiet. Taekwoon had come back not long after he’d left, no more than an hour later, trudging up to the front door without a single glance in Hakyeon’s direction. He’d stopped crying, at least, but there’d been something defeated about the curve of his shoulders. Hakyeon had not liked it.
After Taekwoon had gone inside Hakyeon had braced himself for more yelling but there had been nothing. Lights had been switched on through various parts of the house, then switched off again. Now the building stood in darkness, and Hakyeon kept watch. No doubt they knew he was out there, or at least suspected, but nobody had come to yell at him, at least.
Still, it was getting late— or early, as the case may be. He had time to get back home before dawn came, a good hour off yet, but he didn’t think any of the humans would be emerging again, so there was not much point hanging around as dawn neared. And it was better to leave with time to spare. He did not much feel like being chased by the sun as he headed home; neither did he feel like dragging his sun-tired body through the tunnels to his house and into bed.
Hakyeon straightened, a hand against the chimney stack for balance, the grit of the bricks leaving a residue on his skin. When he moved, his footsteps made no sound, even as he flickered across the roof tiles from one roof to the next. It took him very little time to get home, and when he stepped into his house, underground and cool, he found that both of his children were still awake. Sanghyuk was sitting on one of their large couches with a book, Wonshik sitting at the counter, sucking at a blood bag and kicking his feet a little like a child.
Hakyeon feigned being pleasantly surprised. “You waited up for me?”
Sanghyuk peered at him over his book. “Oh, you were out? We didn’t even notice.”
“That is a lie and we all know it,” Hakyeon said. He didn’t have to work feign the offended tone in his voice, it was completely genuine.
“Where did you go?” Wonshik asked. He hopped off the stool he was sitting on so he could toss the empty blood bag into the trash.
“I went to see our hunter friends,” Hakyeon said. “There was an— ah, an incident, of sorts.” He paused, trying to figure out how to put into words. “I spoke with the sorcerer, Jaehwan.”
“You did?” Sanghyuk said, perking up, like the wannabe academic that he was. “About the spell? Did he give you anything? It’s killing me, not knowing.”
“No,” said Hakyeon, mouth twisting. “I’d hoped that playing on his illness would tempt him, but he seems to have very little regard for his own mortality, and his looming death. He did not accept my offer of help in exchange for the spell.”
“He’s an idiot,” Wonshik said bluntly, almost dismissive, while Sanghyuk frowned, taking the news differently.
“No,” murmured Hakyeon. “He seemed to simply be under the impression we could not help him, and he may be right. We don’t know the specifics of his case, and perhaps it truly is hopeless. He doesn’t want to give me the spell and get nothing in return, in the end. However, after some— some prodding, he said that—” Hakyeon paused; this still left a sour taste in his mouth. “He offered to give us the spell, but in return we must leave them be.”
There was a moment of silence. Then Wonshik said incredulously, “And you agreed to that?”
“Did he tell you about the spell?” Sanghyuk asked, almost at the exact same moment.
“No,” said Hakyeon, addressing Sanghyuk quite deliberately. He would feel Wonshik’s eyes on him, and he avoided meeting them. Both of his children knew him very well, of course they did, but Sanghyuk tended to be a bit less introspective, not quite as good at reading others. Wonshik, on the other hand, had honed his people skills through the centuries and was practically a mind reader at this point, catching the smallest facial expressions, the slightest change in the cadence of a voice. And he’d been at Hakyeon’s side for far too long not to take note of every nuance Hakyeon had.
Sanghyuk knew Hakyeon had felt Jungsu’s death, but he’d never seemed to realize Hakyeon had been affected. Wonshik knew, just like he knew to keep his mouth shut about it. But it had slipped out, in the incredulity of his question. He understood what it meant for Hakyeon to have found interest in someone again.
Hakyeon shook himself. “No,” he repeated. “Jaehwan said he needed time to think about it, talk it over with the others.”
Wonshik wasn’t letting it go. “So if he agrees, and he tells us, we leave them alone? You agreed to that?” he asked again, and Hakyeon finally looked at him, squinting in warning.
“I didn’t agree to that,” said Sanghyuk sulkily.
“He’s not going to tell us,” Hakyeon said, feeling exasperated. “He’s trying to stall for time, it was as obvious as a full moon. He doesn’t have any poker face to speak of. But stalling could benefit us— if we figure the spell out before he tells us, we won’t be bound to any agreements.”
“That’s all very well and good,” Sanghyuk said, voice flat, “but I still have no idea what this spell is, Hakyeon.”
“Keep looking,” Hakyeon said. He wasn’t going to give up this easily. “In the meantime, I’ve offered to put him in contact with a sorcerer who might be able to help him, as a gesture of good faith.”
“Ah,” said Sanghyuk. “The witch?”
Hakyeon nodded. Dawn was close now; Hakyeon could feel it creeping into his awareness, slowing his movements down. Wonshik yawned, not even bothering to cover his mouth. Hakyeon wrinkled his nose at him. “Sorry,” Wonshik mumbled.
“I’m going to bed,” Hakyeon said, shaking his head. They would see what tomorrow night would bring, and hope Jaehwan would continue to stall.
It wasn’t morning anymore, not really, but Taekwoon felt the night clawing him back even so, making his eyelids heavy, mind slow. He hadn’t slept well, when he’d eventually wandered back home, could never truly settle after a proper fight. And this had been so much more than that.
Jaehwan had tried, tried to snag Taekwoon when he’d come home, clearly fidgety, but Taekwoon hadn’t had it in him to listen to more excuses, more reasons. It didn’t matter. Nothing Jaehwan could say would make Taekwoon feel any less betrayed. And, weirdly, he couldn’t find it in himself to feel bad over Jaehwan’s upset, which was a definite first.
Taekwoon tapped his fingers over the high wooden bar, wondering if he should make himself another cup of coffee. He didn’t really think that was the issue; he’d wiped down all the free tables twice over, redid the dishes by the sink, scraped at the espresso machine— his body was fine. It was his mind that was lagging.
He wanted rest. Not even sleep, necessarily, just rest. Peace. He moved his hand into a beam of sunlight, felt the immediate warmth. It was brisk outside, but the sun shone brightly, crisp and clear. When he’d first woken, he’d been glad for its primitive comfort. He hadn’t had anything else; the house had been silent as he’d padded to the kitchen, Hongbin and Jaehwan tucked away in their respective beds, but the sunlight, it was always there for him.
The shadow was sharp on the wood under his hand, dark as pitch, in contrast to the shining white on his skin.
His burn was better, he noted, turning his hand this way and that. It wasn’t red anymore, had settled into being a patchy tan. When pressed, he’d told his coworker he’d fallen asleep doing yard work, and that was how he’d gotten sunburnt. Which was a great laugh, because Taekwoon didn’t think he’d ever touched a damn rake.
The bell over the door tinkled, heralding the arrival of a customer. Taekwoon withdrew his hand.
It was the girl who normally came in around this time, her ponytail high like usual. She’d forgone her blouse and light cardigan ensemble for a proper sweater, a thick number with blue and white stripes. Taekwoon liked it, but he rather thought it was because he owned one remarkably like it.
Her collarbones were quite decisively hidden, and Taekwoon gave a small sigh.
She came up to the counter and gave him a hesitant smile, and he blinked at her in response. She was not deterred. “The usual?” she asked, and he hummed, punching it in. Soy green tea latte. She gave him exact change.
He moved off to make her order, and was surprised when her small voice piped up and over the machinery. “So, uhm, it’s really quiet in here today.”
Taekwoon glanced up at her, then out over the cafe. Yes, it was quiet. “Mm,” he said softly, and went back to pouring the milk.
She didn’t interrupt him again, simply waited for her drink, which he finished with very little flourish and then handed it to her. As he did so, he noticed she looked a bit worn, blue smudges under her eyes. He didn’t know enough about the school schedule anymore to know if it was midterm season, or finals season, or— whatever.
Being nice doesn’t hurt, a small part of his brain whispered. It felt grossly like his conscience.
“Are you alright?” he asked quietly, and this time it was her who blinked. He looked away, tucking his thumbs into the pocket of his apron. “You look tired.”
“Ah, yeah, I’m okay!” she said, disproportionately enthused. “It’s just the attack last night was kinda really close to where I’m living, and my mom was like, flipping out.” She made a motion with her free hand, that Taekwoon supposed was meant to symbolize said flipping out. “And she started trying to get me to move home again, like we haven’t had that conversation five million times, and I’m just— sorry, you don’t— yeah, I’m fine.”
“Mm.” Taekwoon was squinting, he could feel it. Her chatter kind of reminded him of Jaehwan, when he was younger. Usually Taekwoon was pretty good at processing long streams of dialogue, but today all his faculties weren’t running. “Sorry, you said— an attack?”
She tipped her head to the side. He wondered what her name was. “Yeah, there was another attack last night. You know—” She leaned forward, lowering her voice to a whisper. “Vampire attack.”
Despite the warmth of the cafe, Taekwoon felt cold. “Ah,” he said lamely. “I hadn’t heard.”
“Sorry,” she said, like it was her fault. Her eyes roved over his face, large and dark. “It’s— upsetting, you know? So many in so short a time.”
“It is,” he said, though he knew it was lacking the proper inflection. He just couldn’t summon up enough of himself to be present in the conversation right now— he was just thinking of Hakyeon, of the sharp whiteness of his teeth. “Sorry, I need to—” He made a vague motion towards the sink, even though it was empty.
“Oh, yeah, totally!” she said, jumping back towards the door. Her motions were stiff. “Yeah, you’re working, like— yeah. Yeah. I’ll see you— soon? Yeah.”
The door tinkled as she scuttled back through it, letting in a small rush of icy air. Before she was fully out of sight of the windows, Taekwoon saw her bury her face in her hand, ears red.
She was cute, he thought, but it was dim under the darker things swirling around his mind. Taekwoon wasn’t normal, he couldn’t date, because he could never put down his silver blade. Not for long.
His hand went to his side instinctively, but his dagger was home, sitting on his dresser, not here.
Taekwoon didn’t know where the girl lived, but if this attack was where the other two were— it meant there was a second sucker out there, related to the first. They’d gotten caught up with Hakyeon and his lot— if the damned vamp hadn’t gotten involved, this might never have happened. Taekwoon could have stopped it.
That was, if Hakyeon himself wasn’t the guilty party. It was a dark thought, noxious, but wholly plausible. They’d met Hakyeon in the hunting grounds.
I haven’t killed a human in a great many years, I use feeders to sustain myself, Hakyeon had said, what felt like eons ago.
“You’re all fucking liars,” Taekwoon whispered to himself, feeling a spike of anger towards Hakyeon, and by proxy, at Hongbin and Jaehwan. This was all vampires were. Monsters, killers. Why couldn’t they see.
Taekwoon pulled his phone from his pocket to look up any articles he could find on this recent attack, reflecting sourly that this was going to be a long shift.
Hongbin knew this wasn’t going to be pleasant. There was a deep well of apathy inside him, that insisted he didn’t care, and yet he definitely did care. The nervousness gnawing at him betrayed it. Even pissed at him, Taekwoon always came by when they both had work, always offered him a ride home. But not today. Hongbin hadn’t seen nor heard from Taekwoon at all that day. It had been mid-afternoon when Hongbin woke up, and as far as he knew, Taekwoon had been at work. Not for the first time, Hongbin wished he had his phone back— if Hakyeon was going to be a continual pain in the ass, the least he could do was give Hongbin his shit so he could send Taekwoon rude texts when he was feeling grumpy. Or unsettled. As the case may be.
When Hongbin stepped off the bus several blocks away from home, things were quiet, the sun still hanging low in the sky, like it was clinging on. Taekwoon’s car was parked in the driveway, and Hongbin exhaled a sigh of relief at the sight, but the sweet wash of feeling quickly give way to sharp annoyance. So, Taekwoon hadn’t driven into a ditch, he was fine— just being a brat. Fine.
Hongbin tried to tug the front door open and found it locked. He huffed, because now Taekwoon was just being a jackass. It took him a few seconds to fumble for his keys, get them into the lock. When he finally pulled the door open, it was to see Taekwoon sitting on the couch, back turned to the front door, but he was still right fucking there, the dickhead.
“Opening the door is too hard now?” Hongbin asked, stepping inside the house. Because that was how he dealt with upset, and hurt feelings; tiptoeing had never been his style. Kindness had never been his style. He did biting sarcasm and hostility so much better.
Hongbin flicked the overhead light on, because the room was growing dim as the sun set. Taekwoon didn’t react to him. Hongbin stepped forward, saw pinpricks of red and blue— their map of the city, spread out across the coffee table. He swallowed. “You didn’t come by work to pick me up. Does driving with the stick up your ass hurt?”
He wished Taekwoon would snap at him, but he didn’t. The silence was starting to grate. Hongbin stomped around the couch so he could stare down at the map, then at Taekwoon’s stony face. Taekwoon didn’t look up at him, mouth a grim line.
“There’s been another attack,” Taekwoon said softly, and of course that would take precedence, over Hongbin, over everything else.
“I heard at work,” Hongbin snapped, crossing his arms defensively. And he had, it had left him with a sick sinking feeling in his stomach.
Taekwoon tapped two fingers on the map, leaning forward easily. “It was in the same area as the other two,” he said, and something about his tone was damning. “It’s the same vampires.”
Hongbin looked where Taekwoon had tapped, taking in the glowing runes over the map. “Possibly,” he agreed, and Taekwoon shot him a dirty look, upper lip curling. “What?”
“Do you still want to make deals with them now?” Taekwoon asked. The words were almost dripping poison, they were so dangerous.
Hongbin opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again. “I don’t think the vampires responsible for these attacks are— the ones we’re dealing with right now,” he said, and Taekwoon snorted. “You said yourself Hakyeon is an Elimia— his children probably are too. They didn’t get this far by killing humans in droves, Taek.”
Hongbin knew he was talking sense, and he knew Taekwoon had, no doubt, had these exact thoughts. Taekwoon was many things, but he wasn’t an utter fool. As Hongbin glared down at him, Taekwoon looked away, back down at the map, shuffling slightly, and Hongbin knew he’d gotten him.
“Does it even fucking matter if they’re not the same vamps?” Taekwoon asked, the level of hostility in his voice surprising Hongbin.
“Yes,” Hongbin shot back immediately. “It does.” Taekwoon made a noise akin to a growl. “I know you’re pissed off,” Hongbin continued slowly, “and you’re looking for a reason, but— it matters. They’re not the same suckers, and trying to pin this on them will only hinder us in finding the real culprits.”
Taekwoon’s face grew pinched. He hated being wrong, but he was, so he could just suck on that lemon wedge as far as Hongbin was concerned. Taekwoon shook his head, like that would knock his thoughts into order. "How do—” Taekwoon started, then stopped, looking frustrated. “Aren't you mad at them for almost eating you?" he demanded. "Twice."
"It's what vampires do, Taekwoon, not to mention I have a spell in my blood specifically to try and get vampires to eat me. Like, we went out there with the intention of getting a vamp to bite me. Can't exactly bitch about it, can I?" Hongbin asked.
The edges of Taekwoon’s mouth downturned. "That's— it's not—"
“It is,” Hongbin cut in, not really knowing what exactly Taekwoon was going to say, but it didn’t fucking matter. “You see vampires as a mass, a damned mass, and that is fine, Taekwoon. I’ve never tried to change that, because— you have your reasons.” Taekwoon’s face twisted. “But Jaehwan and I don’t have the same reasons. And I’m willing to judge vampires as individuals, especially if we’ve found some willing to help us save Jaehwan. Not everyone can hold grudges like you, Taek."
"Oh, that's rich," Taekwoon said, the sarcasm almost palpable. "You're the bitterest fucking person in the northern hemisphere. Also— it isn't a grudge if it's justified."
"It is still a grudge," Hongbin said with a sharp smile. "And I'm aware I'm bitter.” Oh, he knew. It was a noxious miasma in him, had been since he was small. The loss of his future had turned him cold.
Taekwoon was frowning slightly, expression somewhat reproachful, and Hongbin sighed. “I don't like them, Taekwoon,” he felt compelled to add. “I can feel their mouths on my skin still. Not just the ones currently haunting us, but all of them, even the ones we've killed. But they are what they are, and we are what we are. It isn't anything more or less than that." He paused and then added softly, "At least, not for me."
Taekwoon stared at him, his throat working as emotions battled behind his eyes. Hongbin knew this was hard for him, that Taekwoon couldn’t understand, could never understand, not anymore than Hongbin could ever truly understand Taekwoon’s mind.
Hongbin watched as Taekwoon’s mouth twisted sharply, his gaze casting down as he stood, gathering up the canvas map as he did so. “What are you doing?” Hongbin asked as Taekwoon stepped past him, heading for the hallway.
“It’s going to be dark soon, so I’m taking a shower before the suckers arrive,” Taekwoon said, biting the words out. He didn’t look back as he added, “Gotta give you and Jaehwan a little time to plan out if you’re going to chloroform me tonight.”
Hongbin watched him disappear into the dark hallway and heaved a sigh after the sound of a door slamming reverberated through the house. Chloroform might be a mercy at this point.
Hakyeon had never been a particularly late sleeper, he wasn’t Wonshik, but neither had he ever been a dusk child. Waking up as the sun touched the horizon was beginning to wear on him, though not enough for him to stop. He didn’t want to risk the hunters running. He didn’t think they would, but in this case, it was better safe than sorry.
Sanghyuk was just waking up as Hakyeon left, his child clad in boxers and a soft robe. “Is that my sweater?” he asked, as Hakyeon made his way to the main door of their home.
“I paid for it, so technically, it is mine,” Hakyeon said, not pausing. Sanghyuk simply smiled around the rim of his breakfast mug of blood as he watched Hakyeon go. Hakyeon had blearily had a blood bag right from the fridge after waking up. Something warm sounded great, but he didn’t think Taekwoon would oblige him.
The absurdity of the thought made him laugh, chuckling to himself as he left his home, their front door opening into craggy tunnels, walls damp and covered in lichen. He followed the tunnel as it gently sloped upwards, until he reached the mouth of it, and it released him into a copse of trees. The reaching leaves of various shrubs brushed against him lightly as he stepped out under the canopy of branches. Weak light filtered through the leaves above him, the sky still residually grey, and Hakyeon inhaled the cool air. He liked the scent of greenery.
He flickered through the trees, moving out onto the packed dirt path. They lived on the northern end of the park, where the hills began, and the trails began to be something more akin to hiking trails, as opposed to small scenic walks. Taekwoon’s house was well away, nearer to the south side, and definitely not amongst the nicer homes that had the privilege of bordering the park. So Hakyeon moved quickly, wanting to arrive by the time it was truly dark. He did not wake up this early for nothing.
The gentle woods gave way to larger open grass spaces, a soccer field, a jungle gym surrounded by sand. It was empty now, as twilight died, and Hakyeon expected nothing less. Sometimes, on the weekend, there’d be teenagers sneaking around the trees, but usually things were quiet.
The houses were quiet too, endless streets of bright porch lights, golden windows with people moving beyond them. Even as they grew shorter, from two stories to one, the lots smaller, it was odd how uniformly human it all was. Crisp grey sidewalks and squares of green lawns, shadows in windows.
The hunters seemed to have only one car, and it was parked in the driveway when Hakyeon arrived. Their home, too, had lights on, and there were voices, loud enough that Hakyeon could faintly hear them even from outside. Instead of trespassing on their property, which would give them a very specific idea as to his location, he flittered into the brown roof of their neighbors, which gave him a good view.
Hakyeon moved carefully, lightly, not wanting to knock any shingles loose, and crouched on the edge of the roof before going still so he could listen.
It wasn’t the television put on blast; no, Hakyeon recognized Taekwoon’s voice, carrying even through the closed windows.
“—why shouldn’t I?” Taekwoon was saying. “People are still dying.”
“We have enough on our plates right now,” Jaehwan replied. “What with the—” He cut off, and Hakyeon strained, wondering if he was missing something, but rather thinking Jaehwan had made some sort of gesture.
“But you’ve taken care of that, haven’t you?” Taekwoon said, voice spiking in volume, and Hakyeon, who’d been listening hard, recoiled back with a wince. “No need to worry about it, not when Jaehwan is cutting deals with suckers.”
“I didn’t make any fucking deals!” Jaehwan said, properly screaming, and there was the loud sound of something crashing.
“Why not? You may as fucking well,” Taekwoon cried back. “You can handle fucking Hakyeon—”
Hakyeon’s nostrils flared at being referred to as fucking Hakyeon.
“—I’m going to worry about these other suckers.”
There was another crash, and then the sounds of stomping footsteps, multiple pairs.
“Taekwoon, this is stupid,” Jaehwan’s voice said, and the sound of footsteps grew faster, nearer.
Suddenly there was a creak as the front door opened, and like last night, a beam of golden light fell out over the grass. Taekwoon strode down the creaking porch steps, stomping out towards his car. Quick as a flash, Hakyeon pulled his phone out, texting a message to his children that the hunters were splitting up, and one of them needed to come here to sit on the house. Because, of course, Hakyeon was going to follow Taekwoon.
Jaehwan came out to stand on the porch steps, and shouted at Taekwoon’s back, “You’re being fucking stupid!”
“As opposed to you being stupid?” Taekwoon shot back, half turning but not stopping. “Must make for a nice fucking change, for once.”
Hongbin made a hissing noise, seemingly as a sound effect, and Jaehwan swore quite colorfully. Carefully, Hakyeon flittered down, so he was standing on the front porch, surveying the scene in front of him. Taekwoon was getting into the front seat of his modest little car, Jaehwan hovering on the porch steps, like he wasn’t sure if he should throw himself down on the driveway and stop Taekwoon going or not. Behind him, Hongbin hung back in the doorway.
At least there were no tears tonight. Taekwoon seemed simply— angry, whereas last night he’d seemed broken. He wondered if Taekwoon storming out and away from the others was going to be a routine.
Hakyeon wasn’t going to complain about it, not when it got Taekwoon alone.
“Ah,” Hongbin said, having noticed Hakyeon, and it made Jaehwan whirl around. He startled, slightly, when he caught sight of Hakyeon, making as if to step back inside, but Hakyeon wasn’t interested in him tonight.
“Don’t worry,” Hakyeon said cheerfully, hopping over the porch railing and onto the lawn, so he could stride after Taekwoon quickly. Didn’t want him getting away. “I’m going with Taekwoon.”
“Fucking—” Jaehwan said, stepping forward sharply, down the steps of the porch and onto the grass, holding out his hand. “You promised me you’d leave him alone,” he said lowly, pitching it so even Hongbin wouldn’t hear.
The car engine roared to life, and Hakyeon smiled back at Jaehwan. “I did, but only if you gave me the spell in return,” he said, sweet like honey. He could feel his fangs peeking out. “Will you give it to me now?”
Jaehwan’s hands curled into fists at his sides, the grass around him browning and wilting, which Hakyeon supposed was a negative. He let his grin widen for a moment and then flickered away, quickly yanking open the door to Taekwoon’s passenger side door and getting in.
Taekwoon jumped, giving a short, bitten off curse. “The hell— get out,” he half shrieked. He hunched over the steering wheel defensively, almost hissing.
“No,” Hakyeon said simply, closing his door and settling back into the seat. It was a clean car, nowhere near new, but perfectly serviceable, Hakyeon rather thought, sniffing slightly.
Taekwoon gaped at him, lips parted, like he couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing. It was probably quite incongruous. Hakyeon hadn’t been in a car in at least a few years. Vampires didn’t need them, usually.
Jaehwan was saying something outside, but it was muffled through the glass. It didn’t sound pleasant. Taekwoon turned his stare on Jaehwan, and his mouth snapped shut, expression hardening.
“Fine,” Taekwoon snarled, shifting the car into reverse and hitting the gas so hard Hakyeon found himself wishing he’d put on a seatbelt, they rocketed backwards so fast.
“Careful, kitten,” Hakyeon said laughingly, waving goodbye to Jaehwan and Hongbin as Taekwoon put the car into drive and sped them down the street. “You should put your seatbelt on.”
Taekwoon did not listen to him. “Why are you here?” Taekwoon growled, both hands on the wheel, shoulders hunched up.
“I told Jaehwan we’d be keeping watch on you lot,” Hakyeon said, squinting in disapproval as they ran a stop sign. There was no one around, but still. “I can’t very well let you go off to— wherever you’re going— alone.”
Taekwoon’s heart was pounding, face flushed. It was from the fight, Hakyeon knew, but it made him feel quite warm nonetheless. “I’m going on patrol,” he bit out, and Hakyeon made a small inquisitive noise. Their speed was decreasing to something resembling normalcy. “There was an attack last night.”
“Ah,” Hakyeon said, and had to take care not to wince. That wasn’t going to warm any of the humans to Hakyeon at all.
“It was a block away from where you almost killed Hongbin,” Taekwoon said, and now Hakyeon couldn’t help wincing. “But I suppose you don’t know anything about it.”
“I don’t,” Hakyeon said truthfully, and he jerked forward when Taekwoon braked suddenly, having decided to stop at a stop sign apparently. “You’re going to wear your brakes out.”
Taekwoon ignored that too. “So it’s all coincidence, that you attacked us right where all these other humans are being drained?” he asked, voice louder than Hakyeon was accustomed to.
“No,” Hakyeon said, and saw Taekwoon stiffen. The car lurched as Taekwoon hit the gas again. Hakyeon noted the houses were growing sparse, replaced by local businesses as they headed downtown. “It isn’t coincidence. But I didn’t kill anyone. I was there looking for you— you were the ones who killed that vampire, were you not?”
“Yes,” Taekwoon said, teeth flashing. He had no fangs, but oh, he had claws. “And we would have killed this other one too, if you had done the world a favor and fallen on a stake a few centuries ago.”
“You’re going to get yourself killed,” Hakyeon said simply, and Taekwoon growled but didn’t reply. Taekwoon had too much anger in him, he couldn’t be the dagger’s edge he needed to be. He would always be a bit too sloppy, too irrational. He couldn’t be a true hunter, not with this level of personal hatred in him.
Lord would have thought Hakyeon would’ve had his fill of hunters, and by all rights he should have— but perhaps he needed this level of transparency after— after last time. Taekwoon had no hidden cards, they were all laid out in plain sight. If nothing else, Hakyeon knew where he stood.
“Why do you hate vampires so much?” Hakyeon asked, and maybe he should have led into it a bit more smoothly, but he wasn’t sure there was a way to get to that question easily.
Taekwoon’s upper lip curled, and he took his eyes off the road for a second to shoot Hakyeon a scathing look. Hakyeon was surprised how easily he was able to interpret it.
“Yes, I know, you’re human, and vampires eat humans,” Hakyeon said impatiently, waving his hand as if to brush that away. “There is innate animosity between our kinds, of course— but you have a certain disdain that I feel is normally unique to—” Hakyeon faltered. “Bad histories, we shall say.”
Taekwoon’s facial expression didn’t change from the glower that just seemed to perpetually grace his features, and he didn’t look at Hakyeon again, but Hakyeon saw his hands tighten on the steering wheel, saw his knuckles go pale.
Hakyeon’s eyes traced over the soft curves of Taekwoon’s profile. “Where is your family, kitten?” he whispered.
Again, Hakyeon found himself being jerked, this time as the car swerved suddenly and stopped, pulled up beside the curb. “Get out of my car,” Taekwoon said harshly.
Hakyeon sighed. He should have expected that. “I guess that is my answer.”
Taekwoon— he was shaking, he was so angry. Hakyeon wasn’t afraid of him, not really, but it was still chilling, to see another creature so furious. “Jaehwan and Hongbin are my family,” Taekwoon spat.
Yes, Hakyeon knew that, a family forged for survival, clawing to breathe. But— “They’re not your blood.”
“Get out of my car, you bloodsucking parasite,” Taekwoon fairly shouted, taking one hand off the wheel to shove at Hakyeon’s shoulder, as if that would do anything.
Hakyeon grabbed his wrist, firm enough so Taekwoon couldn’t pull away, but gentle enough to not leave marks. “I didn't hurt your family, Taekwoon. I can promise you that. I can,” Hakyeon said softly in counterpoint to Taekwoon’s rising volume.
Taekwoon’s cheeks were so flushed, eyes sparkling as his chest heaved. He looked away from Hakyeon, but not before Hakyeon caught the flash of pain in his eyes.
Slowly, as if he was trying not to spook a skittish animal, Hakyeon reached down and carefully shifted the gear stick into park. He didn’t want Taekwoon driving while they spoke of this, he wasn’t right for it. Then he braced his hand on the dashboard, shifting so he had a knee on the seat, half kneeling on it so he could lean forward. Glamour swelled up, instinctive, but Hakyeon reeled it back in. He didn’t want Taekwoon that way.
“Kitten,” Hakyeon whispered, “has it occurred to you I could maybe help you?”
Taekwoon stilled, in a strange mimicry of a vampire, but still he didn’t look at Hakyeon. “I don’t want your help.”
“Do you want revenge?” Hakyeon asked, taking shots in the dark because he knew some of them would hit. “Is that why you hunt?”
He expected Taekwoon to rise up, shout again, but instead his shoulders rounded, and he sighed. Hakyeon‘s shot had missed, apparently.
“You don’t know anything,” Taekwoon whispered. His eyelashes fluttered as he glanced at Hakyeon. Their faces were very close, Hakyeon could feel his breath whispering against his skin. “You’ve killed in the past. Drained humans dry because— our lives are nothing, decades of living and for what? You to take it, so you can go on.”
How could Hakyeon explain, that he agreed, he did, and that was why he lived the way he did. He couldn’t help what he was— except he’d chosen this. He’d damned himself willingly.
“I haven’t killed anyone in a very, very long time, Taekwoon,” Hakyeon said, deciding that was the next best thing. A flash of crimson flickered through his mind, a memory of bones snapping under his fingertips. He amended, “Not for blood, at least.”
“And somehow you think that makes it better?” Taekwoon asked. He tugged at his hand, which Hakyeon was still holding captive, and Hakyeon let him go. Taekwoon rubbed at his wrist, like he was trying to wipe away Hakyeon’s touch. “Even if it was centuries ago, and only even one person— would it matter to their parents? You stole someone’s child, someone’s sibling, someone’s—” He cut off, looking ahead of himself again, back to breathing heavily.
Hakyeon finished for him in a whisper. “Someone’s lover?”
Taekwoon, still, didn’t rise to it. Another missed shot. “You don’t know anything,” he repeated. “You think if you figure me out, and deliver some vamp’s head on a platter for me, I’ll spread my legs for you? Hand Jaehwan over? Both? What are you doing?”
What indeed, Hakyeon thought, lips pursing. He sat back, settling into his seat once more. His skin felt oddly cold without Taekwoon’s warmth near him. “Just making conversation.” He could sense Taekwoon gaping at him slightly, and he ignored it in favor of reaching over and putting the car back into drive. “I’m not getting out— like I said, I have to keep a watch on you. So we can sit here all night or we can go hunt vampires.”
There was a long pause, wherein Hakyeon thought Taekwoon was going to argue. But, perhaps he was beginning to realize that butting heads with Hakyeon would only lead to aggravation, rather than him getting his way, because he pulled away from the curb eventually, the car lurching forward as Taekwoon stomped on the gas.
Hakyeon let his mind wander, rather than running his mouth anymore. Taekwoon had lost someone, someone he held dear, at the hands of a vampire. A senseless death. Had it been a lover? Hakyeon rather doubted it, Taekwoon seemed quite young, too young to have been married, and his attachment to Jaehwan suggested they had years upon years of history between them. A family member then, perhaps. A parent or sibling.
Hakyeon would have to dig.
The ceramic mug had been easy to clean up, shattering in larger pieces than glass ever did. And the smaller slivers that were missed would be more inclined to crunch underfoot, rather than slice, so Hongbin wasn’t too bothered.
“I’m sorry,” Jaehwan said softly, sitting at the table with a sigh.
Hongbin gave a one shouldered shrug. It had always been like this. “It’s fine— the mug wasn’t one of the nicer ones.”
“That isn’t what I meant,” Jaehwan mumbled. He ran his hand through his hair, less fluffy and more oily. He hadn’t gotten a chance to shower yet tonight. Taekwoon had been raring to fight as soon as he’d woken up. At least the fucking sucker had gone with him when he’d stormed off. Hongbin didn’t think he could deal with the house wards pinging at him right now. “I think— I think we fucked up, with Taekwoon.”
The corners of Hongbin’s mouth tightened. “Maybe,” he admitted. “But I don’t think he can keep living the way he has been, we should have— things should have changed, a long time ago.”
“Yes,” Jaehwan agreed, sighing again. “But I think we should have gone about it a little— more slowly.”
Hongbin went to the kitchen sink so he could wash the ceramic dust and residual coffee off his hands. He turned the water on low so he’d be heard over the sound of it hitting the basin. “The problem is Taekwoon would never take any sort of softer means to heart— he doesn’t do well with subtlety. He needs to get whacked over the head with things. Even if he doesn’t like it.”
“I know,” Jaehwan said, as Hongbin ran his hands under the cool water. “But I do think we crossed a line. I— I forget, sometimes, that under the anger there’s a lot of pain. I expected him to be angry, but I think he’s more hurt.”
Hongbin turned the water off, reaching for their dish-drying towel to wipe his hands off on, movements deliberately slow. He wanted to gather his thoughts so he could get them out properly. “Taekwoon—” he began, then stopped, frowning down at the towel. It was crusty. He sighed, putting it back on the counter. “He loves us, I think he thought— I think we all thought, things would be better, after we got away. But it couldn’t fix my wounds, any more than it could fix his. And then you got sick and— I think all Taekwoon has ever wanted was to have a happy family, a happy situation. The disappointment of it— you’re right, he covers the hurt with anger, he always has, because it’s always worked. But we’re all running on fumes at this point. Shit has to change, Jaehwan.”
Hongbin turned, to see Jaehwan with his cheek propped up on his hand, face slightly distorted because of it. He looked miserable. “It has to change,” he agreed, the words slightly indistinct, “I’m just worried he’s going to break, instead of bending. Hating vamps, blaming them, has always given him something to hold onto, a purpose. I’m worried that without it he’s just going to— fall apart.”
“He might,” Hongbin said heavily, shoulders slumping. It had all gone so wrong. “But we won’t. I won’t. We’re not his parents, he can rely on us. I think he forgets it.”
Jaehwan moved his hand, scrubbing over his face with it. “We’re going to have to talk to him about it, aren’t we?” he asked, muffled from behind his fingers. “About— what happened. We never talk about it. He won’t stand for it.”
“We might have to lock him in the basement again,” Hongbin said solemnly, and Jaehwan peered through his fingers to glare at him. “Shout it out through the door.”
“Not funny,” Jaehwan said, but Hongbin thought he could see a smile peeking out from under Jaehwan’s hand. “Should we—”
His mouth snapped shut, hand falling away from his face as he glanced up. Hongbin could only faintly feel it, a slight disturbance on the house wards, but Jaehwan was much more attuned to them. The feeling intensified, and Hongbin strode to the entranceway of the kitchen so he could peer through the living room, at the front window.
“Taekwoon isn’t back,” he said, because he saw no headlights shining through the curtains. Hongbin turned back to the kitchen, where Jaehwan had stood, the fingertips of one hand braced on the table. “Do you think Hakyeon came back without him?”
Jaehwan shook his head, not so much in answer seemingly as in confusion. They both jumped, a little, when there was a thump, and in unison they looked to the back door. Their porch was creaking under the weight of someone standing on it, and goosebumps rose on Hongbin’s arms. After a few moments, silence fell. Neither of them were fooled.
Jaehwan was taking deep breaths, and Hongbin hoped he kept it together, because he didn’t want to clean up any more broken dishware tonight. He motioned at Jaehwan to stay where he was, and went to the window over the sink, pressing his face near the glass so he could see out into the darkness.
Even knowing something was out there didn’t stop the sick swooping of his stomach when he saw a figure sitting on the steps of their porch. The lines of the body said vampire, but the haircolor informed Hongbin it wasn’t Hakyeon.
“It’s the fucker that got caught in the trap and almost ate me,” Hongbin said loudly, and the vampire turned, squinting. Hongbin got chills and pulled back.
“Hakyeon must have sent him here to watch us, while he’s trailing Taekwoon,” Jaehwan whispered, frowning. “Fucking hell.”
Hongbin agreed with that sentiment. He didn’t hate vampires with the same sort of fire Taekwoon did, but he still didn’t fucking like this.
Taekwoon didn’t want to be in this car. He’d wanted to get away, have some time to get lost in the razor focus of a hunt— but of course the universe would grant him no peace.
He shot a sour look at Hakyeon, who’d been blessedly silent for the last fifteen minutes. Perhaps he’d decided he’d done enough damage. The asshole didn’t see Taekwoon’s glare— after his game of twenty questions, he’d opted to roll down his window, and was currently half leaning out of it, arms crossed on the sill. Chilly air was pouring in through the open window, ruffling Hakyeon’s hair. The vampire was apparently impervious to the cold temperature, but Taekwoon’s fingers were icy, tingling.
Taekwoon was too pissed to ask Hakyeon to roll his window up. He was too pissed to say anything, really. His mind was caught in a loop of Hakyeon’s words, but Taekwoon wasn’t allowing himself to focus on them, leaving them to rot at the back of his mind with everything else. They’d fade. Like everything else.
If it wasn’t for Hakyeon, Taekwoon would have arrived at his destination over ten minutes ago. But he hadn’t wanted to take Hakyeon nearby too many of their active runes on the way; it would fuck up their readings, so he took them on a more indirect route. As it was he was having to make a mental note of the runes they had driven by, so he’d know that later when he checked the map and they were glowing bright blue, it wasn’t a lead. It was just Hakyeon. Fucking everything up.
Taekwoon moved his foot, quickly hitting the brake hard, and was viciously satisfied when Hakyeon slid forward and its elbow hit the edge of the window sharply. Hakyeon made a small hurt noise, pulling himself back and rubbing at his elbow. “What was that for?” he asked, eyeing him reproachfully.
Taekwoon didn’t reply, he didn’t— he didn’t know why he was even engaging with this creature. He slowly eased off the road, parking neatly by the curb, and Hakyeon got the hint and rolled his window up. The recent attack site was a few blocks east, but there was a rune here, tucked beside a dumpster, that had been triggered. Taekwoon wanted to walk along the path the vampire had followed and find out what he could see. He cut the engine, stuffing his keys into his jacket pocket.
“Is this—” Hakyeon began, but Taekwoon opened his door and climbed out. He shut his door on Hakyeon’s words, already striding around the car and towards the slim alleyway lined with dumpsters.
Taekwoon didn’t hear Hakyeon move, vampire as he— it— was, its footsteps were silent, but he heard the car door open and shut. “Lock it,” Taekwoon said without looking back at Hakyeon, eyes fixated on the graffiti wherein the rune was hidden. It was a small cat head, pink, but within it was their triggered rune. Behind him, he heard the car door open once more, the click of the lock being pushed in, and then the door shut again. He hadn’t really expected Hakyeon to listen to him.
Thank you, he thought without volition, and bit his tongue rather than speak it aloud.
“This isn’t where the attack was,” Hakyeon said from somewhere behind him, near enough that Taekwoon was getting shivery. His body instinctively didn’t like having a vampire at its back.
Taekwoon gave one last sweeping glance at the alleyway, nothing standing out one way or another, before he turned around to glare at Hakyeon. He hadn’t noticed in the car, but Hakyeon was wearing a soft looking grey sweater, too big on his slim frame. If he was trying to look small and vulnerable, he wasn’t fooling anyone, least of all Taekwoon.
“I thought you didn’t know about this attack?” Taekwoon asked, sharp and biting, ever suspicious.
Hakyeon looked down, scuffing his boots on the pavement. “I can’t smell any blood,” he said, very softly, his tone suggesting he knew the words would piss Taekwoon off so he was treading carefully.
All Taekwoon could smell was dumpster, so he couldn’t speak on it one way or another. “The attack was a few blocks up,” he said simply, the words clipped. Without saying anything more, he began to quickly walk towards the next rune; it was on the side of a potted plant, sprayed on in clear glue.
Hakyeon followed, Taekwoon couldn’t hear him— it, but he knew. The feeling of a vampire tailing him was unmistakable.
“If the attack wasn’t here, then why did you stop here?” Hakyeon asked, voice pitched quietly. All the buildings here were darkened, businesses closed for the night, but there were a few residences, apartments, tucked away on second and third floors. It wouldn’t do for them to be heard, have someone peek out, and see a vampire. Taekwoon didn’t particularly give a shit if a VCF cruiser came by— but Hakyeon wouldn’t want that.
Taekwoon passed a closed deli, squinting ahead of himself, already seeing the collection of potted plants outside a small hair salon. He didn’t want to divulge their rune system, not when he didn’t know what Hakyeon would do with the information. It wasn’t the best system anyway— the runes needed vamps to come pretty damn close, and they only seemed to do that when stalking prey. Taekwoon didn’t know why.
“Vampires don’t normally walk on the pavement like this,” Taekwoon said, lilting it so it was nearly a question. They were passing the potted plants now, and Taekwoon barely spared them a glance. He didn’t need to check every single one— he simply wanted to walk in the vampire’s shoes.
From behind him, very near, Hakyeon said, “No, rooftops are safer.”
Taekwoon blinked, stopping suddenly and looking upwards. Of course— he’d never thought of it, but it made sense. They’d always assumed vampires travelled underground, in the sewer systems— but flittering on rooftops was both more pleasant and probably less restricting.
But they couldn’t get runes up on rooftops, that would be conspicuous to say the least. He scowled, staring upwards still. Maybe they could—
Suddenly Hakyeon was at his side, and Taekwoon flinched away, because their arms had almost brushed. “I wish you would go away,” Taekwoon snapped, holding his own upper arm reflexively.
Hakyeon didn’t react to that, expression oddly neutral. “Would you rather I stayed at your home, with Hongbin and Jaehwan?”
The implication was almost taunting— Hakyeon clearly thought the idea would be reprehensible to Taekwoon, but after the previous night, Taekwoon didn’t much fucking care. Jaehwan and Hongbin would do what they wanted, regardless of if either Hakyeon or Taekwoon were there. If they thought they knew so damn much, he’d let them make their choices and swallow the results.
“It wouldn’t fucking matter much if you did, would it? Since even with me there, you and Jaehwan had a nice chat,” Taekwoon said coldly. He stepped away from Hakyeon, resumed walking, trying to turn his thoughts back to this hunt. Rooftops. He wondered if the VCF knew—
“I was surprised you weren’t out there with him, to be honest,” Hakyeon said, not letting it go, and Taekwoon took a deep breath, trying to shut him out but he wouldn’t shut up. “And you were so upset afterwards, why—”
They’d reached a street corner. Taekwoon stopped under the lamppost, the light sickly yellow, and whirled around, hands clenching into fists. He could feel blood coming to his cheeks, probably making them splotchy. He hated that this creature had seen him cry. “If you don’t shut up,” he spat, “I am going to start screaming, and when the VCF show up, I will point them in whichever direction you’ve fucking run.”
Hakyeon was in the darkness, standing outside Taekwoon’s pool of light, but he could still see Hakyeon’s features, illuminated by the ambient glow. Maybe it was a trick of the dim light, but Hakyeon looked almost sad. “Taekwoon—” he began. It began. But it stopped, head whipping to the side, staring down the block. “I smell blood.”
They were nearer to the attack site, so Taekwoon might not have thought much of it— but Hakyeon wasn’t looking towards the east, where the attack had happened. He was staring down the street that headed south.
Taekwoon felt cold. “Lead,” he said shortly, and Hakyeon moved, running at a human sort of pace down the block. Taekwoon followed— even though Hakyeon wasn’t going vampire speed, he was still fast, and Taekwoon struggled to keep up as he darted through the shadows. There was new adrenaline running through him, and despite the cold air he was beginning to sweat.
When Hakyeon began to slow, he held his arm out, as if to indicate Taekwoon shouldn’t pass him, should let him go first. He’d hunched forward, stepping carefully, nose in the air. It was almost catlike. There were several alleyways ahead, tucked between restaurants and closed drug stores.
Quite suddenly, Hakyeon was gone, flittered away, and Taekwoon’s heart skipped a beat. He whirled, searching, but the street was quiet and empty, not even a shadow moving. It instinctively caused panic to spike in him— knowing Hakyeon was behind him was one thing, but not knowing where he was lurking at all was another matter entirely. His earring was warm, so Hakyeon hadn’t gone far, and the shivers skittering over his skin were enough of a reminder even without it.
And then, just as quickly, Hakyeon was back, a specter of the night standing not five feet away. His return did nothing to quell the panic racing through Taekwoon’s veins.
“Here,” Hakyeon said softly, for once utterly avoiding Taekwoon’s eyes. He turned, leading the way across the street, to a wider alleyway that cut all the way through the block.
There was reflected light spilling down into the alleyway, but it was still very dim, to Taekwoon’s eyes. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a flashlight. Normally, he didn’t use it, because it spoiled a vampire’s cover— but he knew there was no vampire here, aside from Hakyeon. Nothing to spook.
Taekwoon clicked the flashlight on, shining it down into the alleyway, and the beam of light immediately caught color amidst the grey of the concrete and buildings— blue. Blue and white. A striped sweater.
He could feel all the color drain from his face, the lightheadedness coming on so fast he felt nauseated. “No,” he whispered, and found himself running. The person was fairly small, dark hair spilling out richly over the pavement. He skidded to a stop on the other side of them— her— crouching down to see.
There was blood staining the neck of her sweater, and her hair had fallen over her face, but Taekwoon could see her glassy eyes, make out the slope of her nose, the shape of her mouth. It wasn’t her. The girl from the coffee shop. It wasn’t her.
Relief washed through him, and on its heels came guilt, and disgust at himself. This girl was dead. She was dead, and maybe twenty years old— it didn’t matter if he’d known her or not.
He exhaled shakily, getting back to his feet, head bowed. Whatever vampire had done this to her was gone. There was nothing he could do for her, and he didn’t want to touch the body, knew there would be a forensic team combing over her soon enough.
Her glassy eyes stared up at the sky, moonlight reflected off their smooth surface. Taekwoon looked away, eyes flicking up. Hakyeon was standing across from him, hands loosely at its sides, face downturned. Its expression was flat. Nothing there.
“Not your first dead body, is it?” Taekwoon asked, feeling his own upper lip curl in a snarl over his teeth. Hakyeon flinched.
Taekwoon clicked his flashlight off, so he wouldn’t have to look at the vampire anymore. In the dimness that followed, he carefully stepped out of the alleyway, heading back to his car, and even though the silence behind him wasn’t anything new, he knew, somehow, that this time, Hakyeon wasn’t following him.