Pairing: eventual n/leo, hyuk/ken, hongbin/ravi
Word count: 9,377
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: This week has been really really awful for me, the reasons for which some of you definitely share, and others that are more personal. But the world continues to turn, so. I thought maybe we could use something happy(?) today. I really like this chapter.
Kyungsoo surprised Hakyeon by waiting for him just inside the gates.
The spells around the perimeter meant Hakyeon did not see him while walking up, he had simply flickered over the fence and suddenly Kyungsoo was there. Were he not well practiced at this, he might have startled, but as it was he simply stilled, for a second, before stepping forward to kiss Kyungsoo’s soft cheek.
“Am I late?” Hakyeon asked. His master had not given him a time, and he had woken just after dusk as was becoming his custom, and after dressing primly he’d left. He’d taken an extra few seconds to wake Sanghyuk before he’d gone, to make sure his child would be at the hunters’ house to watch over it quickly, but that had taken very little time.
For a moment, his mind wandered, to how much he would rather be there, chasing Taekwoon, than here, dealing with business. But he made himself focus on the now with a snap. It was important to be on one’s toes when around Kyungsoo.
“Not at all,” Kyungsoo said smoothly, looping his arm with Hakyeon’s and beginning to guide him up towards the house. “I merely wanted to take you in through the front, so you could get the full effect of things.”
The full effect, Hakyeon thought, looking up at the elegant stone building. It was ablaze with internal lights, all the windows of the lower level glowing. Hakyeon rather liked the ambience of it.
Kyungsoo, just for show, pushed open both front doors, revealing the entrance hall with its black gleaming floors and long, slender tables pushed up against the walls. Hand painted vases atop them were still devoid of any flowers.
Jongdae was waiting for them there, dressed in black slacks paired with a cool grey button down. It made Hakyeon feel a little underdressed, in his grey distressed jeans and white turtleneck sweater, but Kyungsoo was also wearing a simple long sleeved shirt and jeans. And Hakyeon’s sweater was cashmere, at least.
Realizing Kyungsoo was waiting for him to say something, Hakyeon said, “It is very grand, but not in a way that is overwhelming.” He gestured at Jongdae. “This doesn’t match well, though.”
Jongdae grinned, fangs poking out. “Are you wearing that sweater to hide your giraffe neck?”
Hakyeon touched the neck of his sweater, scowling, and Kyungsoo stepped between them smartly. “Children,” he said flatly, and Jongdae giggled, but fell silent.
Jongdae was not, in fact, Kyungsoo’s child. He was simply an old friend and business partner. He would be the hands-on manager of this place, for which Hakyeon was glad. Firstly, because Jongdae was good at this sort of thing, and secondly, because it meant Hakyeon wouldn’t have to be.
“So,” Kyungsoo said, smoothing over the moment, “this is where clients will walk in. We’ll have Jongdae here to greet them, or a few other humans on staff. Non-feeders. I don’t want to have the feeders just roaming about during business hours. I want them either in their rooms or in one of the parlours.”
Hakyeon nodded. Various feeder houses ran things in different ways, but they could generally be divided into two types: those meant for function, and those more meant for fun. Kyungsoo’s were the latter without exception. Those meant for function tended to be a lot more clinical, like what Hakyeon imagined a drive-through experience was like. Stocked to the brim with feeders, meant to provide sustenance and nothing more.
But those meant for fun were a much more in depth, personal experience. And definitely more like a five course meal than a drive-through. Because of that they had fewer feeders, and charged more money for them, but they also offered a wider array of services. Generally one feeder would only have one client a night, or, as oftentimes happened, the house would host business gatherings, or parties, and act as both a venue and sort of catering service. Sort of.
“How many feeders did you settle on?” Hakyeon asked Kyungsoo.
The corners of Kyungsoo’s mouth tightened in displeasure, and he stepped back to the doors to close them softly. “Eight,” he said, and Jongdae fidgeted. “Four boys and four girls. But one of the boys got snatched out from under me and I am very put out about it so don’t ask too many questions.”
Hakyeon looked to Jongdae, who met his eyes. Hakyeon raised his eyebrows in silent question, and Jongdae shook his head, pressing his lips together tightly to hold back his smile. So. The boy had been bribed away. Possibly by a business rival, but more likely simply by a patron with a great deal of money who wanted to make him a personal feeder.
“Will you be postponing open to find a replacement?” Hakyeon asked.
Jongdae shook his head, and Kyungsoo said, “No. I want to open in a month, and I check backgrounds too extensively to make that deadline if we did that. So, I will simply fill the void when another suitable candidate comes along.”
That made sense. Background checks on feeders were basic security, but Kyungsoo took them especially seriously, and so did Hakyeon. Burned once, as they say.
“So, clients walk in here, and if they know who to ask for, they can be taken right to the appropriate room,” Hakyeon said. “But it will take time, to gather regulars, so where will first time clients be taken to when they need to be shown their options?”
Jongdae pointed down the hallway to their right. “One of the parlours, preferably— has he seen the parlours?” The question was directed at Kyungsoo.
“Yes,” both Hakyeon and Kyungsoo answered at the same time. Kyungsoo sniffed.
“Just asking,” Jongdae said simply. He moved, pointing to the hallway on the opposite side, their left. “If the parlours are all occupied, we can have them meet the feeders in the small, or large, den.”
“But I would prefer to avoid the large den if at all possible, because that room is less for business and more for daytime use,” Kyungsoo said, and again, Hakyeon nodded. It was a room built for comfort rather than show, for the feeders to use in their off hours. It would be kept pristine, but there was no hiding the feeling of personalization in rooms like that. Especially because he knew the den was right beside the kitchen, and had the door to the back porch.
“And where am I going to meet the feeders?” Hakyeon asked, already knowing the answer.
“The large den,” Jongdae said, grinning. “Because we don’t need to impress you.”
Kyungsoo shot him a look. “Jongdae, go upstairs and fetch them, thank you,” he said shortly, and Jongdae gave a theatrical bow before striding into the right-hand hallway. Once he was gone, Kyungsoo looped his arm with Hakyeon’s again, and said, “Come.”
Hakyeon bit back a sigh, because this was going to take a while, and he wanted to go. If the hunters split up again, Taekwoon could get into any manner of trouble while alone.
Kyungsoo guided Hakyeon to the left, and they passed the small den— small being a very inappropriate descriptor. But it was the smaller den. It had a wide arching doorway, with no door to speak of, and a very large hearth around which were gathered an ample number of places to sit. The furniture looked sturdy but still elegant, patterns muted and tasteful. If this were a human house, it was the sort of room a toddler would never be allowed to trespass into.
Further down the hallway curved and widened before opening into the large den. There was no hearth here, but there was a very large television built into the wall, and couches aplenty, all upholstered with warm brown leather and very overstuffed.
On one of the overstuffed couches sat Junmyeon, leaning forward and pouring over notes and a ledger he’d spread out over the coffee table. He looked up when they came into the room, a smile spreading over his face even if his heart began to pound. Instinct was always a challenge for humans. “Hakyeon,” he said, standing up. “I thought I heard voices. When did you get here?”
Hakyeon, not for the first time, wondered what it was like to have senses as dull as a human's. It had been so long since he’d been one he’d forgotten. “Only about five minutes ago.”
“I was having Junmyeon catch Jongdae up on the financial plans, among some other things,” Kyungsoo said, motioning flippantly at the notes on the table. Seeing Hakyeon’s face, he added, “We shall spare you it, have no fear.”
“Thank you,” Hakyeon said, and perhaps he sounded a little too relieved. Junmyeon was their financial adviser and their accountant, and as far as Hakyeon was concerned, they hired him so they wouldn’t have to deal with it. But Kyungsoo shot him a sharp look. “What?”
“You seem displeased to be here,” Kyungsoo said, mild in a way that Hakyeon knew covered upset. “Am I keeping you from something?”
A hunter with a very pretty mouth, Hakyeon thought, but what he said was, "No, I just don't exactly have a passion for running these places like you do.”
Kyungsoo’s glare turned squinty. "You sure do like spending the money that gets generated though," he said, and Hakyeon's lips pursed. "I don't have a passion for it, Hakyeon, but our coffers have to be filled somehow."
"No one says coffers anymore," Hakyeon muttered. "You're dating yourself."
Kyungsoo frowned, and Hakyeon was saved from the oncoming scolding by the sound of footsteps approaching, heartbeats and soft breaths. He turned to look back at the hallway from which they’d come through, and saw Jongdae, leading the humans in a small group.
Once they reached the den Jongdae moved off to the side, falling back, so the feeders could spread out in a semicircle in front of Kyungsoo and Hakyeon, in a way that was an odd mimicry of what they would probably do for a new client. Their heartbeats were steady, and in many other houses, their posture may have been a bit shifty, or shy. But not these ones. Hakyeon knew they had all learned — or been trained, as the case may be — to carry themselves well.
They were all fairly young, but Kyungsoo as a rule never hired anyone who was under twenty-one. Their youth, and the faint scars that marked healed bite wounds, were about the only things the feeders all had in common. That and they were all pretty, in one way or another. But they had a good variety, Hakyeon thought, tall and short, soft and thin, dark and fair.
Hakyeon’s eyes fell on the only one he knew. Yixing had worked in another house, and while he wasn’t very striking, he had an air Hakyeon had always liked, something unassuming and soothing about him that reminded Hakyeon of Wonshik. The boy and girl standing directly on his other sides shone where he didn’t, and the girl in particular, with her short stature and ample curves, was probably going to be a favorite of Wonshik’s if no one else, Hakyeon knew. Hakyeon didn’t favor women, but he could see her beauty.
“They look good,” Hakyeon said, eyes sweeping over the others. “Healthy.”
“We’re opening next month because I want to make sure everyone is well adjusted before then. And I hope, thus far, everything has gone well?” Kyungsoo lilted the last part, looking to the feeders. He was met with nods and murmurs of agreement, soft smiles.
“Who is managing them during the day?” Hakyeon asked, glancing at Junmyeon, but he thought that was a rather unlikely option. Junmyeon was a tad bit too high strung.
“Jongin,” Kyungsoo said, and Hakyeon’s eyebrows raised in surprise before he could catch himself. He wanted to press a bit further— upgrading Jongin from a feeder to a business asset was quite a choice, but Hakyeon new better than to second guess Kyungsoo in front of others. Others outside the bloodline, anyway.
Kyungsoo did not look at him, but Hakyeon could read his body language well enough, the slight defensiveness to his posture. He knew this was a point that would be contended with. Well. At least he hadn’t gone daft.
“I see,” was all Hakyeon said in reply, once again scanning the feeders. Seven was a good number. If things went well, Hakyeon would eventually push to upgrade them to ten. But for now this would serve them well enough.
“Do you have any questions for them?” Kyungsoo asked pointedly.
Hakyeon shook his head, looking down at his feet. When the hallway ended, the black floors had given way to plush white carpet. They should have taken their shoes off. “No.”
“Jongdae,” Kyungsoo said, and the feeders fell out of formation as Jongdae stepped forward, presumably to either herd them back upstairs or into the kitchen. In a soft aside, Kyungsoo murmured to Hakyeon, “Come.”
He did not loop his arm in Hakyeon’s this time, simply swept out of the room and assumed Hakyeon would follow, which he did. Kyungsoo took him briskly across the house, into one of the larger parlours, the one with the more rustic theme, complete with a bearskin rug in front of a giant fireplace. Hakyeon hated it, but Kyungsoo had said he wanted to rooms to have different ambiances, so there it sat. He wondered if Kyungsoo had taken him to this room with it in mind.
Kyungsoo closed the door behind them, and as soon as it shut, the silencing charms of the room sealed them in, and the sound of footsteps and heartbeats cut out and left a ringing silence.
“You are distracted,” Kyungsoo said, eyeing Hakyeon levelly. He stepped further into the room to sit leisurely in a giant armchair that just about swallowed his tiny frame.
Hakyeon opted to remain standing. “I’m not distracted, I’m just—” He cast around for the right word, staring at the large, landscape painting on the wall, but nothing appropriate came. “Distracted,” he said in defeat, shoulders slumping a little.
Kyungsoo hummed, gesturing at the armchair across from his. “Sit. And tell me of our little sorcerer problem, as that is where I believe your thoughts are. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t wondering how things were going with him.”
Hakyeon, ever obedient, sat, but he stayed on the edge of the seat, as prim as he could be when sitting on an armchair designed to apparently consume people. “We have them under watch, and relatively reigned in,” Hakyeon said. “The sorcerer and I have reached the terms of a deal, but he is still hesitating on taking it. Physically, he is very weak. He does not seem to leave the house.”
“So, you think they do not pose a very strong, immediate danger after all?” Kyungsoo asked, a little too casually. “When last I saw you, you were rather perturbed over this issue.”
Hakyeon fought not to react. “That was because I was unsure of the sorcerer’s mind and state,” he said. “It was clear he was unwell, but more than that— while he demonstrated aspects of ruthlessness, he was not hostile, not like the two hunters.” He flexed his fingers, remembering the pain of Jaehwan’s hand on his arm, the fire of it. A warning, but a controlled one, no vitriol in the action. It had been simple survival. “And while he definitely possesses large quantities of magic, his illness renders him weak, too weak to survive squandering it on, say, a large scale vampire attack. Even if he was so inclined to, which, I do not think he is.”
Kyungsoo hummed again, gaze assessing in a way that made Hakyeon want to squirm. “But the hunters are hostile, as you said,” Kyungsoo murmured, and Hakyeon held his breath. “No need to act, Hakyeon. I am aware you are tackling this issue with more delicacy because of your own feelings. But I would hope you are also keeping some measure of neutrality here, an ability to step back and assess things smartly.” The threat was subtle, but it was unmistakably there. I trust you so don’t fucking blow it.
“I have them all under constant watch at night, I am monitoring them, as I said.” Hakyeon’s hands clenched in his lap. “They do nothing, the sorcerer remains at home. They seem to be divided, currently, on if they should continue hunting at all.”
“That is good, because eventually that will have to be stopped as well, one way or another,” Kyungsoo said pointedly. He looked levelly at Hakyeon, unflinching. “You can play this out, Hakyeon. Do what you must, what it is you feel so compelled to do. But you cannot watch them forever, eventually they must yield. Or be taken care of.”
A week ago, Hakyeon would not have thought twice about such an order. But now, Taekwoon’s voice echoed back to Hakyeon. We’re so worthless to your kind.
Hakyeon loved Kyungsoo, and he was not a cruel vampire. He was only practical. But oh, how that practicality looked like cruelty, when he was gazing through Taekwoon’s eyes.
“Yes,” Hakyeon said softly. “I understand.”
Sanghyuk stared down at the hunters’ house from his perch on a neighboring roof, wondering how best to go about this.
It had taken him longer than he meant to get up, dressed, and out of the house. By the time he’d arrived the car in the driveway was gone. He didn’t know if whoever had taken it had left before dusk or after— a failing Hakyeon was probably going to ream him for later.
The only thing that kept him from utterly panicking was the fact that there were lights on inside the house, and he could see shadows of at least one person moving around within. So they hadn’t made a run for it. More likely, one or both of the hunters had gone hunting, and the sorcerer had remained behind. Which suited Sanghyuk’s needs just fine.
Throwing caution and subtlety to the winds, he leapt off the neighbor’s roof and landed in the hunter’s backyard. From here, he could see into their kitchen, and was granted a glimpse of the sorcerer’s face.
Sanghyuk bit his bottom lip. The sorcerer was so lovely. And so potent. Sanghyuk still hadn’t figured out the secrets of his sunlight spell, but he hoped talking to the sorcerer would possibly jostle something loose in his brain. Maybe the sorcerer would slip up if Sanghyuk threw enough guesses at him. Maybe simply being near him and getting a feel for his energy would reveal something.
“But how to get you to me,” Sanghyuk whispered to himself.
The sorcerer— Jaehwan— stopped in front of the kitchen window, leaning forward and squinting out into the darkness. Beside him appeared the prettier hunter, and Sanghyuk grumbled in displeasure— it was going to be harder, getting the sorcerer to talk to him if they had company.
Sanghyuk figured there was nothing to lose by going at this directly, so he flickered onto the porch and knocked decisively on the back door.
“Is he serious?” Hongbin whispered, staring across the kitchen at the back door.
Jaehwan swallowed, also gazing at the door. After a few seconds of them standing, frozen and unsure what to do, the vampire outside knocked again. With Taekwoon out of the house — gone before Jaehwan had even been able to leave his basement room — he felt especially vulnerable. But even if he was here, if the vamps wanted to kill them, they could do it just as easily regardless. And they probably wouldn’t be knocking.
“Fuck,” Jaehwan said under his breath, stepping forward and grabbing the doorknob. Hongbin hissed as Jaehwan pulled the door open, revealing a vampire looming in the doorway.
Hongbin was there, then, pressed to Jaehwan’s side. “Asshole, do you have my phone—” Hongbin cut off, as they registered the vampire in front of them was neither Hakyeon nor his silver-haired child. It was the third one, height staggeringly high. Like Hakyeon, his hair was dark, and of course, he was vampire— but that was where the similarities ended. This one was pale where Hakyeon was golden, face sharp as opposed to Hakyeon’s softness. There was something fluid and almost feminine about Hakyeon, that neither of his children, this one especially, seemed to share at all.
The vampire blinked down at them both, rapidly, like he was trying to adjust to the strong light coming out of the kitchen. “I don’t have your phone— I didn’t realize I was supposed to,” he said.
Jaehwan’s eyes darted behind the creature, but he saw no other company. Hakyeon must have gone in search of Taekwoon, a thought that made Jaehwan’s stomach sink and his fists clench. “If your maker sent you to inquire about our prior conversation,” Jaehwan said through gritted teeth, “you can tell him I am still thinking on it.”
The vampire stared down at him, and Jaehwan hated how hard his heart was pounding. They were still inside the house, just enough, and the vampire would not be able to reach out and grab them. But that was hard to remember when to his eyes, there was nothing but air and a foot of space separating them. At his side, he could feel Hongbin trembling slightly, but his breath was slow and even.
After a long moment, the vampire looked away, at the door frame instead. “My maker did not send me to speak to you,” he said, reaching up to pick a piece of peeling paint off the frame. “He sent me here to watch over you, but I wanted to speak to you of my own accord.” He rubbed his fingers together, and the flecks of paint fell from his skin to the floor.
Jaehwan wasn’t fooled by his nonchalance, and wondered what new tactic this was. “Speak quickly then,” Jaehwan said tersely, “all the warm air is escaping.”
The vampire smiled a little, and it lacked Hakyeon’s sharp edges, had no taint of condescension. “You could come outside,” he said. “I did not hurt you before; I will not hurt you now.” He shifted, as if to make room for Jaehwan to step out.
Rationally, Jaehwan knew the vampires, for now, seemed to want him alive. But still, he didn’t want to make himself so vulnerable with so little backup. Last time Taekwoon had been locked away, but he had still been there. Jaehwan didn’t feel quite confident enough to face this vampire without both his hunters at his back, especially when he wasn’t feeling tip top tonight. His efforts before he’d slept had worn on him, and he felt a bit spread thin.
“Before, you did not hurt me because you knew the damage I could do,” Jaehwan said. “Not out of any kindness.”
The vampire was frowning, mostly in what appeared to be bafflement. “At first, yes,” he said. “But I had ample opportunity after that, when you were unconscious in my arms.”
Hongbin made a small sound, of unhappy surprise. Jaehwan felt his face go cold, very fast, and fought the instinct to turn to Hongbin and yell, What?
“Ah, they didn’t tell you that part,” the vampire said, and there was nothing mocking in his tone. Instead, his eyes roved over Jaehwan’s face— seemingly in concern. “You are very pale.”
“I—” Jaehwan began, cutting himself off and glanced at Hongbin. “Stop touching me,” he muttered, voice barely audible, and Hongbin immediately leaned away so they were no longer making contact. Jaehwan didn’t trust himself not to inadvertently spark right now.
He had wondered why when he’d woken up from fainting, he hadn’t had any bumps or bruises from smacking down onto the concrete. He had assumed Taekwoon had caught him. Or perhaps that he had tripped far enough and landed in the overgrown grass. He looked up, at this vampire with its cheekbones sharp as a glass edge, and his stomach swooped at the idea of it holding him when he was unconscious.
Taekwoon had probably been distraught about it, which was also most likely why he had left it out of his recounting of the story. Damn him.
“Breathe,” the vampire said very softly, and Jaehwan, without thinking, inhaled deeply. The dishware on the countertop had begun to rattle, but it stopped abruptly.
“Jae,” Hongbin said softly, and Jaehwan held up his hand, to indicate Hongbin should really not, right now. Hongbin stepped back further, and Jaehwan heard him quickly leave the kitchen entirely. Jaehwan didn’t know where he was going. Hopefully to dig out their crossbow.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you,” the vampire murmured, head tilting to the side as his eyes grew a bit hooded. What was this new tactic. “But as I said, I did not hurt you then. I won’t hurt you now.”
“You touched me,” Jaehwan whispered, more to himself than anything else. He still felt a bit queasy, at the thought of this vampire cradling him, his neck bared for it, helpless. In an effort to hide his upset, he tried to glare at the creature, but was too scared to quite meet his eyes, and settled for glaring at his nose instead.
The vampire bit his bottom lip. “Jaehwan,” he said softly, and the sound of his name whispered that way made a shiver run down Jaehwan’s spine. “That is your name, yes? I’m Sanghyuk, Hakyeon’s youngest child.” He paused, faltering, as Jaehwan continued to stare up at him. “Breathe.”
Jaehwan inhaled again, but he did it spitefully. He wasn’t sure how one could breathe spitefully, but he felt he’d done it. “What do you want from me?”
Sanghyuk’s lips parted, for a moment, eyes roving over Jaehwan’s face. “You are so powerful,” he whispered, then cleared his throat. “Both Wonshik and Hakyeon concurred that you were the least hostile of the bunch. But I suppose that is like saying an arrow to the chest causes less damage than a gunshot.”
Jaehwan, ridiculously, found himself blushing a little. He glanced over his shoulder, but Hongbin had not yet returned. Jaehwan needed him back here. “You talk about us.”
“Well, yes, just as I am sure you do us,” Sanghyuk said. He put his hands on either side of the doorframe, leaning forward as far as he could before the wards stopped him.
Jaehwan wanted to step back, because Sanghyuk’s face was very close to his own, and his size was intimidating. Jaehwan wasn’t short by any means but Sanghyuk looming over him made him feel small. His heart was pounding, and he was so faint it felt more like a fluttering in his chest. But he didn’t want to look weak, so he held his ground, still glaring up, shoulders stiff and hands fisted at his sides.
Sanghyuk appeared to take note of all of it. “Though I think,” Sanghyuk added softly, his gaze taking Jaehwan apart, “we talk of you a bit differently than you speak of us.”
Jaehwan wasn’t sure what that meant, it seemed rather cryptic, and before he could ask Sanghyuk had leaned down a bit further, inhaling deeply near Jaehwan’s cheek. Jaehwan didn’t like that his mouth was so near, and the animalistic action made goosebumps rise on his skin.
“Do I smell like a good meal?” Jaehwan asked with a bravado he didn’t quite feel. The words came from his mouth, but they were Hongbin’s and he couldn’t deliver them the way his friend would have.
“You smell weird,” Sanghyuk muttered, and Jaehwan, for some inexplicable reason, was vaguely affronted by that. Sanghyuk leaned the other way, inhaling on Jaehwan’s other side. “I wish you’d come closer.”
Jaehwan could feel Sanghyuk’s breath on his skin as he’d spoken. The house wards were seething. They were close enough.
“No.” Jaehwan leaned a little further back, just to be contrary, and he saw, for a flash, that Sanghyuk’s eyes had fluttered shut. He opened them when Jaehwan pulled back. “What do you mean I smell weird?”
Sanghyuk blinked slowly at him, and no matter what Sanghyuk may have said about not meaning him harm, Jaehwan could recognize the faint signs of bloodlust in a vamp. Jaehwan felt suspiciously warm— if Sanghyuk was trying to glamour him, he’d burn him like he’d done with Hakyeon.
“You smell like a charm,” Sanghyuk said, a little thickly, and Jaehwan laughed, a short, broken off sound. “And kind of like a vampire.”
That stopped Jaehwan smiling. “How is that possible?”
Sanghyuk’s eyelashes fluttered, and he smiled, in a way that let Jaehwan know it was the only answer he was going to get. It made fear rise in Jaehwan— whatever game this vampire was playing, Jaehwan did not want to play it with him.
The anxiety in turn made him agitated in his own way, a new shortness of breath coming over him. “What do you want?”
“Breathe, Jaehwan,” Sanghyuk said, his head tilting. Jaehwan was struck with the fact that he was beautiful, like Hakyeon was beautiful. In that eerie, deadly way. “I want to help you,” Sanghyuk murmured, and somehow, Jaehwan felt a pull, that called to him to step forward, against Sanghyuk. It didn’t feel quite like glamour, but there was magic, in every word Sanghyuk spoke. “You’re dying, Jaehwan. And it will happen soon. Sooner than I think you realize. You’re leaking magic, it’s bleeding from you, I can practically taste it in the air. But I think we can help you.”
Here it was, the trap, sweetly set. Jaehwan tried to calm his racing heart, feeling magic lay heavily just under his skin. “I’m not fooled by whatever act this is— Hakyeon is a snake, but at least he doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what he is,” Jaehwan said, ashamed of how his voice shook. “Do us both a favor and speak plainly. I know this isn’t about saving me for the sake of it.”
At some point, Jaehwan had begun to look directly into Sanghyuk’s eyes, and even though he knew he shouldn’t be, he couldn’t seem to look away.
In response to Jaehwan’s hostility, he expected Sanghyuk to match it. But he didn’t. He didn’t even react. Instead, quiet as a whisper, Sanghyuk asked, “Have you ever held a bird, Jaehwan?”
Jaehwan blinked, feeling like he was waking from some odd dream. “What?”
“A bird. A small one. Have you ever held one?”
It was such an odd question, and Jaehwan’s brain was slow to process it. “I— only baby ones,” Jaehwan said slowly, thinking back to his childhood. “Ones that fell from the nest.” Fragile, fledgling things. They died, they always died, but the compulsion to try to save them was too much, every time. “I don’t—”
“I think holding you would be like that,” Sanghyuk continued in that whisper. “Your heartbeat sounds like wings.”
Jaehwan’s face, his fingertips, stomach, they all went cold in a sickening wave, the instinctual terror of knowing a vampire wanted him crashing down. But it was followed up by a blush, his stomach twisting into knots. Was he being glamoured, he wondered, fighting the urge to sway forward.
“Jaehwan,” Sanghyuk murmured, his voice seeming so far away, “let me help you.”
They died. They all died. With their translucent skin and underdeveloped wings, cries that petered off into soft exhalations of death. If that was Jaehwan, he could not be helped. Not even by a vampire.
“Ah,” Sanghyuk said, and the gentle exclamation jolted Jaehwan back into something more like a waking state. Sanghyuk’s eyes flickered over Jaehwan’s shoulder, and Jaehwan realized he could hear footsteps just as he realized he had stepped too far— he wasn’t in the house anymore.
“Hey,” Hongbin was saying, voice alarmed, “get back—”
Jaehwan made a high, keening noise of distress, turning to see Hongbin stomping back in the kitchen. But he didn’t pull away fast enough, and Sanghyuk grabbed his shoulders from behind, hands large and warm through Jaehwan’s shirt.
Hongbin stopped dead in the middle of the kitchen, looking stricken. He couldn’t have been gone more than five minutes, and in his hand he held their container of Fae Sprae— which would not be fun for a creature like Sanghyuk to get in his eyes, Jaehwan knew. Hongbin must have been planning on shooing Sanghyuk off with it.
Jaehwan stared at Hongbin from across the kitchen, heart fluttering and breathing shallow. He was fizzing, skin sparking, if he reached up, he could burn Sanghyuk’s hands, but he wasn’t sure he was fast enough, wasn’t sure he quite dared when he felt so weak—
Sanghyuk’s hands tightened on his shoulders, and he pulled Jaehwan back, mouth against his ear. “Keep breathing, Jaehwan,” he whispered, and then he was gone.
Taekwoon’s phone kept ringing, and finally he had to duck under the balcony of a closed restaurant to answer it. No point trying to be stealthy with his phone quietly pinging at him.
“What?” he answered it with, impatient as he glanced down the street, but there were no cars, not here. He was on the perimeter of the hunting grounds— he’d driven past several VCF cars when going to the hotspot, and so hadn’t been able to stop there. Part of him was glad the VCF were finally involved, but it meant Taekwoon had to be careful, of more than just the vampires. He did not want to be arrested.
“Hakyeon sent his second child to babysit us tonight,” Hongbin’s terse voice crackled over the line. “But the maker himself doesn’t seem to be here. I imagine he will find you soon, so watch your back. I think they’re starting to get more aggressive.”
“I don’t need cryptic messages,” Taekwoon hissed.
“I’ll tell you more when you come home,” Hongbin snapped. “Until then just be fucking careful— I don’t like not having you here, and I don’t like not being there. We shouldn’t be splitting up like this—”
“Thank you,” Taekwoon said sharply. “I will be on my toes.” He swiped the call closed on Hongbin’s indignant indrawn breath.
Aggressive. Did that mean violent, or simply more insistent? Taekwoon knew, rationally, the vampires’ patience would eventually run out. He looked up, exhaling, wondering what this meant.
After putting his phone back in his pocket he pushed off from the wall of the restaurant, back onto the sidewalk proper. He wasn’t sure what to do— they had no leads for this area, and he was too far from the college— there weren’t going to be any people wandering around this neighborhood after dark. He’d be better off skulking around the bars that stayed open after dark, but they had more cameras on that end of downtown, more lights, because people were out there.
No, he was better off here. It wasn’t within the previously established hunting grounds, but it was near enough to them, and quiet enough, that a vampire would potentially come through in search of a straggler.
Taekwoon walked, passing under the light of one street lamp, then another, his shadow lengthening and and shortening as he went. When he stepped in front of the mouth of a side street, not quite an alley but narrow nonetheless, his silver earring began to warm, the skin at his nape prickling uncomfortably. He dropped his hand to his side, where his dagger rested and stepped closer to the street, further out of the light. He didn’t know what he was looking for, exactly; a sign that the vampire was still hunting in this area, a sign that he was scaring it off, but if there was something—
A figure appeared out of the shadows, walking human pace like it had been there all along, although a second earlier it had not been there at all. Taekwoon took a startled step backwards, heart skipping a beat sickly, even though he knew that gait, the narrow width of those shoulders.
The light fell in a reflected glow off Hakyeon’s face once he reached the mouth of the street. “Hello, kitten,” he said softly, a very faint smile on his lips.
Taekwoon’s face twisted in a semblance of a snarl, the slight fright Hakyeon had given him turned to annoyance, almost anger. Taekwoon was surprised how fast it welled up.
“How did you find me?” he asked, and at his tone, Hakyeon’s smile faded. Hongbin had said that Hakyeon would be trying to find him, but Taekwoon had set out before night fell, running errands as the sun set, in the hopes of throwing Hakyeon off his trail. He couldn’t hunt, couldn’t even effectively patrol, with Hakyeon at his side.
Hakyeon tilted his head a little, making a sort of vague motion with his hand. “I could just sense you,” he said, and Taekwoon didn’t like that one bit.
“I do not want you here,” Taekwoon said flatly, and Hakyeon’s face twisted. He turned without waiting for a response and continued down the street, practically stalking in his anger.
“Taekwoon,” Hakyeon said, catching up to Taekwoon easily despite Taekwoon’s longer strides. It wasn’t like Hakyeon could get out of breath. “Things have-- we don’t have time for this anymore. You’re going to get hurt, hunting on your own. This has to stop”
It felt too close to what Hongbin and Jaehwan had said the previous night, and Taekwoon wondered where he would be able to go, to get away from this fucking needling. “Oh, fuck off,” he said. “My life is nothing to you, so don’t even start.”
He heard Hakyeon huff. “I told you, you’re not nothing to me—”
“Right,” Taekwoon said, a slight pant in his voice because he was getting out of breath. Hakyeon kept up with him easily. “Because if I’m gone, there goes the deal with Jaehwan, right? Oh, and any chance you have of making me your sex slave.”
“Taekwoon stop,” Hakyeon said loudly, and Taekwoon did, deliberately whirling directly under a lamppost, so Hakyeon would have difficulty seeing him. It was unclear what emotion was on Hakyeon’s face, but to Taekwoon’s eyes, he looked— upset. “I’ve told you that I want you because of the better aspects of your personality— because I found your loyalty admirable. I’m not some base monster who just wants to consume your flesh and blood, who just— just— wants to turn you into something less.”
Hakyeon’s voice had begun to shake by the end, and inexplicably, Taekwoon felt the beginnings of guilt well up in him. He was being cruel.
Hakyeon stared at him, brow hitched and eyes liquid and dark. He was wearing a white turtleneck. The color suited him. Even in dim lighting, he was beautiful. Beautiful in death.
Vampires didn’t feel the way humans could, Taekwoon thought in a snap, shaking himself. He was projecting— in the same way people did with inanimate objects, humanizing stuffed animals, apologizing when they got dropped. They couldn’t feel, but humans tended to assign emotions anyway. It was a thing. And it wasn’t something Taekwoon was going to let himself get caught up in now.
“I don’t care why you want me,” Taekwoon said, the words coming from his mouth but sounding far away. “The thought of being intimate with you makes me want to be sick.”
The spasm that crossed over Hakyeon’s face before it wiped its expression clean had definitely been pain. Taekwoon pretended he didn’t see it. “I know,” Hakyeon said softly, stepping up nearer to him, “which is why I told you I will not push you. I am not here for that, things are in motion now, and you have to stop hunting.”
Taekwoon shot it a disbelieving look. “I’m not one of your children. You can’t just order me to do something, and have me obey.”
Hakyeon’s mouth was twisting, in a way Taekwoon wasn’t sure was entirely conscious. It definitely had edges of pain to it. “I am just trying to keep you from getting killed—”
“You’re protecting your investments, as you told me last night,” Taekwoon spat, taking a step back to keep the distance between them. “I don’t need a monster for a guard, or babysitter.”
“I am not a monster,” Hakyeon said, far too intensely for how close they were. Taekwoon’s earring burned, and his heart pounded unpleasantly. “Why do you hate me so much? I’ve done you no wrong.”
An incredulous laugh bubbled up Taekwoon’s throat, wholly without volition. The sound was soft enough that it didn’t echo. Hakyeon couldn’t be serious. “We already had this conversation last night,” Taekwoon said simply. “You’re a murderer, and you almost killed one of my best friends.”
“I apologized for that,” Hakyeon said softly, and it was nearly petulant, like a child.
Taekwoon’s nose wrinkled. “And you think that makes it all better?”
Hakyeon stepped forward again, edging further into the light. “How can you damn me for killing when you’re a killer too?” it asked, and Taekwoon stepped back, not wanting it near him.
“I kill vampires,” he said, confusion cutting through his anger. “Vampires are all damned, humans aren’t.”
“Every vampire you’ve killed had family too, Taekwoon,” Hakyeon said, still coming forward, edging Taekwoon back until Taekwoon knocked against the lamppost, head thunking unpleasantly on the metal. Hakyeon was awash in pale yellow light, and it flattened his features out, creating sharp black shadows. His eyes seemed to glow with it.
One of Taekwoon’s hands went behind himself, touching the lamppost, while the other hovered around his chest, like that would keep Hakyeon away. “I don’t count makers.”
“I don’t mean makers,” Hakyeon said, and he was so near that Taekwoon’s fingertips were brushing against his chest, pressing, as if that could hold Hakyeon back. Hakyeon’s face was tipped up slightly, so he could stare into Taekwoon’s face. “I was human. I had family who loved me. I had—”
“And you threw it away,” Taekwoon cut him off, voice going a bit high because Hakyeon was too close. His heart was thumping, skin flashing hot and cold as sweat began to prickle at his hairline. He wanted Hakyeon to back up, stop talking, he didn’t want— to be in this moment. “You threw your humanity away to become a monster.”
Hakyeon’s face twisted, and it was so odd, that Taekwoon could interpret the emotion— frustration. But it did not deny that it had turned willingly, had left the daylight of its own accord. “I’m an Elimia, from the start I wanted— to be the right kind of vampire,” it said instead, something straining through its tone, but this, Taekwoon couldn’t place. It didn’t really matter.
“This isn’t kindergarten,” Taekwoon said. Hakyeon was so near now Taekwoon’s hand was flat on its chest, and the lack of a heartbeat, of any breathing, was making shivers run along his skin. “You don’t get points for intention.”
“Why not?” Hakyeon asked, face open, eyes searching. “It is enough for the Balance, it is why I am as strong as I am.”
Taekwoon’s upper lip curled, and for a second, Hakyeon’s eyes flickered down. “I am not going to give you slack for only killing a handful of humans, as opposed to many,” Taekwoon said. “You’re still a killer.”
“And so are you,” Hakyeon said stoutly, and Taekwoon shook his head slightly, because no, vampires did not count. They were nothing. Hakyeon frowned, nose crinkling. It was so near, leaning against Taekwoon’s bracing hand. Taekwoon realized he could feel faint warmth, bleeding through Hakyeon’s sweater. He could have sworn it had been icy before. “You are, you’re a killer.”
No. “Vampires bring nothing but death,” Taekwoon hissed, his anger making some of the fear of being so near an agitated vampire dissipate. “So you deserve death.”
Hakyeon’s mouth twisted sharply, and Taekwoon expected to see fangs, but when it spoke again, its teeth were still blunt. “What about those of us that don’t kill humans for food? Like me?” Hakyeon asked. “How can you justify it?”
Taekwoon didn’t know why they were still running around in this loop. “You’ve killed in the past,” he said, wondering how many times he would have to repeat it.
“But I don’t do it now, and I have no intention of doing so in the future. Will you kill me for a crime I committed over three hundred years ago?” Hakyeon asked. Its voice was going a little high, and it grated, making the hair on the back of Taekwoon’s neck prickle. “Why do you get to play judge and jury and executioner?”
Taekwoon shook his head, because no, no that wasn’t what this was about. It wasn’t about Taekwoon, it was about them, and what they were. For the sake of humanity, vampires needed to be gone, because they were threats, because they were monsters. Taekwoon was simply one of many taking up that task. “We just had this conversation,” Taekwoon said, his voice matching Hakyeon’s in rising volume. “How many times do I have to— vampires— you—”
“Vampires kill humans for food,” Hakyeon snapped out, cutting him off. Its breath ghosted over Taekwoon’s face, surprisingly warm. It smelled like mint. “Pointless deaths, senseless to you. I understand that, kitten.”
“Then why do you keep making me say it?” Taekwoon asked, and he pushed at Hakyeon’s chest, just in experimentation, and the vampire, despite its slimness, did not budge. Taekwoon was beginning to feel short of breath from being cornered the way he was. He had a feeling if he tried to slide out sideways, Hakyeon would simply block him.
“Because you aren’t answering my current questions,” Hakyeon said, not reacting to Taekwoon’s gentle pushing, not getting the fucking hint. “How can you justify your hatred for me, specifically? I’ve done nothing to you.”
Taekwoon stopped pushing in favor of giving Hakyeon a scathing look. “You almost killed Hongbin,” he said incredulously, “you’re threatening us. Even now, following me around— I’m not fucking fooled, Hakyeon, I know if we don’t cooperate, in the end, you’ll kill us.” Did this creature think him that stupid, that gullible.
“I’m an Elimia,” Hakyeon said again, like it was some amulet that could protect from the truth. “I don’t kill senselessly. I don’t want to hurt you, Taekwoon.”
“But you will,” Taekwoon said, snarling. “You will, when you don’t get your way in the end. Tell me I’m wrong, Hakyeon. Say it.”
Hakyeon did not say it, he didn’t say anything for a long moment, holding Taekwoon’s gaze under a heavy scowl. He seemed to be searching for something in Taekwoon’s expression, and whatever he found had him making a low growl of frustration that in turn made Taekwoon’s stomach swoop sickly in fear. Hakyeon moved, grabbing Taekwoon’s wrist in one hand, the other going between their bodies to Taekwoon’s waist, smoothly pulling Taekwoon’s dagger out of its sheath. It hissed, as the silver made contact with its skin, and fear flashed through Taekwoon when the dagger’s surface caught the light. But before Taekwoon could think to struggle, Hakyeon had, surprisingly, pressed the hilt of the dagger against Taekwoon’s palm. Taekwoon curled his fingers around it, the blade hefty in his hand, and Hakyeon’s own hands dropped to rest as its side as it fell back a bit, leaving its defense fully open.
“If you want to play it this way, if you really think I’m a monster who is only going to kill you in the end, that I deserve to die— then do it, Taekwoon. Kill me,” Hakyeon said, and there was fang now, just a bit, peeking out as Hakyeon spoke. Its hands were still held at its sides, fisted, but resolutely down. Taekwoon didn’t move, the dagger held in his hand, hovering at around chest level. He knew this was some sort of test, that Hakyeon wouldn’t really let him kill him, surely—
Hakyeon stepped closer once more, taking Taekwoon’s wrist again and moving it so the tip of the dagger was pressed against its own chest, the blade catching on the fabric of Hakyeon’s sweater. Taekwoon was frozen, eyes locked on where the blade had ripped a little hole in the sweater, if he pushed the dagger forward, slid it between Hakyeon’s ribs, into its heart, Hakyeon would be— gone. Dead, properly dead, body limp on the pavement, under this harsh yellow light.
It was a trick. It was a lie. “No,” Taekwoon whispered. He felt cold.
Hakyeon growled again and grabbed Taekwoon’s jaw, forcing his face up, and Taekwoon gasped sharply at the contact, his hand faltering, lowering some. “Look at me,” Hakyeon said harshly, but there was no glamour in the command. Taekwoon obeyed him anyway. Their faces were so close, Hakyeon’s eyes boring into his own when Taekwoon met them, the hand at his jaw not letting him squirm away. God, he wanted to. “Kill me. Look me in the eyes and kill me. Kill me for things I haven’t done yet, kill me for the lives I took centuries ago, when I was newborn and out of my mind.”
Taekwoon tried to slide away, from between Hakyeon and the lamppost, but Hakyeon’s hand was still on his jaw, fingertips bruising. Bruising and warm. “I don’t care how long ago it was,” Taekwoon said, but it was harder, when he was staring into Hakyeon’s uptilted eyes. “I don’t care if you were lost in the bloodlust— you chose to turn. You chose to become that.”
Hakyeon was— breathing, chest heaving with it. Perhaps it was an instinct thing, an old instinct. Anger, bringing back with it ghosts of the past self. The part of Hakyeon that this Hakyeon had murdered. “I did,” Hakyeon said, tone evening out, volume closer to normal. Taekwoon could hear the strain of it. “I asked to be turned. I was dying of fever, and I was afraid.”
For a second, a flash, Taekwoon thought of Jaehwan, staring down into the abyss of death, but he quickly shoved the thought out of his head. Jaehwan wasn’t turning to save himself. Jaehwan wasn’t weak. Not like Hakyeon had been, apparently. Running from death, at the cost of the lives of others. “Afraid of death?” Taekwoon asked, contempt heavy in his voice.
“No, of hell,” Hakyeon said, softly, and Taekwoon blinked. It let go of Taekwoon’s jaw, eyes lowering for a flicker before coming right back up to meet Taekwoon’s. There was a new stiffness to its posture, the set of its jaw. “I’ve always liked boys.”
Taekwoon felt his lips part in silent surprise, unconscious. He knew his eyes had widened for a flicker. “You— oh,” Taekwoon said lamely, the darker emotions in his mind scattering in the midst of that revelation, leaving him feeling wrong-footed and unsure.
Hakyeon’s chin lowered a little, posture a bit less defensive. “Things weren’t always the way they are now,” he murmured, eyes slightly unfocused, like he was seeing things long since lost. “My mother still loved me— my father did not. I wrote to her, even after I turned. She never knew I became what it did.” He seemed to shake himself a little, looking at Taekwoon with new clarity as he tilted his head. “Do your parents know—” He cut off as he caught himself, looking a little stricken.
Taekwoon didn’t even let himself think about it, any of it, brain cutting it off before he could get there. The anger that surged up because of Hakyeon bringing up his family again was lost amidst all the other emotions tumbling around Taekwoon’s brain. He didn’t want— “No,” Taekwoon said, oddly numb for how many things, feelings, were flashing through him right now. “No matter what the question was— the answer is no.”
Hakyeon bit his bottom lip, eyes searching over Taekwoon’s face. “Kitten,” he whispered, “will you condemn me?”
There was no gut reaction, no immediate response ringing through his mind. Taekwoon opened his mouth, but the yes didn’t come. “You’re a vampire,” he said instead. Because it was the only thing that mattered.
“I am,” Hakyeon said, pressing nearer, and Taekwoon turned the blade, so it wouldn’t accidentally cut into Hakyeon’s chest. “And no matter what other circumstances there are— no matter how I’ve chosen to live my life, the choices I’ve made— I’m damned?”
Hakyeon’s eyes were still searching, staring at Taekwoon, through him. There was a slight hitch in his brow, the only emotion on his soft face. “You’re a vampire,” Taekwoon repeated, desperation bleeding into his tone, and Hakyeon winced, just slightly. Taekwoon turned his face away, unable to hold eye contact any longer. He looked to the side, down, at the pavement. “This has to stop.”
Hakyeon took Taekwoon’s wrist again, very gently, and rotated it so the blade was pressing against his chest once more. Taekwoon might have moved it again, but Hakyeon held it there, now, with both hands, trapped between their bodies. “You kill vampires to protect humans— but I don't kill humans for food,” Hakyeon said, not letting this go, and Taekwoon squeezed his eyes shut, trying to will himself out of this moment. “So what will you kill me for, Taekwoon? As a punishment for not being human?”
“I'm not going to kill you,” Taekwoon whispered, blinking his eyes open again. He tried to pull his hand back, but Hakyeon held it fast.
“Well, but you'll damn me for it?” Hakyeon asked softly, leaning forward to catch Taekwoon’s eyes again.
“I don’t have a choice,” Taekwoon said, hating how wretched his own voice sounded. He worked to look at Hakyeon’s open face, his clear eyes. “You’re a vampire.” It was simply the way it was. It— it just—
“Kill me then,” Hakyeon whispered, and his face was so close, too close.
No. He— Hakyeon was a monster, a threat, and he needed to die, but Taekwoon— he couldn’t— “No,” Taekwoon said harshly. When did he become so weak. Hakyeon was frowning, opening his mouth again as his fingers tightened around Taekwoon’s wrist. “No.”
Hakyeon was pressing his wrist down, and Taekwoon could feel his sweater giving under the sharpened silver. “Why not?” The silver made contact with Hakyeon’s skin, burning, and Hakyeon hissed.
“No, stop,” Taekwoon gasped.
Taekwoon let the dagger go, and it clattered down onto the pavement loudly, thankfully missing both of their feet. Hakyeon blinked down at it in surprise, still holding Taekwoon’s wrist.
“I said stop,” Taekwoon whispered. There was a mild burn showing through the slice in Hakyeon’s sweater, from the silver blade touching him, but it was healing quickly. Taekwoon touched his fingertips to it before he could stop himself, and Hakyeon gasped.
Taekwoon yanked his hand back, quickly ducking away from Hakyeon, putting space between them finally, finally. He heaved in cool air, wishing he would stop feeling so flushed, that it could calm his racing heart. Hakyeon didn’t stop him, holding his hands to the healing burn on his chest, head bowed.
Would the vampire really have let Taekwoon kill him, Taekwoon wondered. Probably not. No. No, it wouldn’t have. This had been some sort of test. He wondered to what end.
Taekwoon skittered close for a moment, snatching up his dagger and then darting back again, eyeing Hakyeon warily, but the vampire did not move. Taekwoon slid the dagger back into its sheath, feeling a wave of relief as he did so.
Hakyeon glanced at him, still standing under the lamplight, while Taekwoon was backing into the shadows. “Why won’t you kill me, Taekwoon?” Hakyeon whispered, and Taekwoon’s face twisted. He— he wanted to go home, pack this memory away, pack the memories of Hakyeon away, bury them. He wanted this to go back to being easy.
Taekwoon swallowed thickly. “I don’t want to.”