Pairing: eventual n/leo, hyuk/ken, hongbin/ravi
Word count: 5,631
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 chapter is neither particularly long nor exciting. I didn’t mean for it to go so long between updates but shit happens and I’ve been damn busy.
Wonshik sat at the high island in their kitchen, the white of the tiles blinding as they peeked out from underneath a rainbow explosion of note pads and scattered post it notes. Idly, he swept aside a slip of cream paper that was in the way of his mouse so he could close the website he was on in favor of going through another. He felt like he had been sitting on this hard wooden chair for days, rather than hours. Which was funny, considering how rapid time usually moved for the undead. Nothing slowed the mind down quite like boredom, but like his maker and sibling, Wonshik was too stubborn to give up. Not this early in the game anyway.
Sanghyuk was the one with magical knowledge, the one with the phantom spark in his fingertips, while Wonshik had always been more into science, research, gathering data. And in lieu of chasing after the spell itself, Wonshik had the idea that, perhaps, the key to unlocking that particular secret would be to chase Jaehwan himself. If he could find information on Jaehwan’s family, on who he really was, what his life had been like, his schooling, it would perhaps shed some light on the subject of the spell.
But Wonshik couldn’t find any information on Jaehwan. It didn’t help that he didn’t know Jaehwan’s last name, didn’t know any of the hunters’ last names. Didn’t even know if the first names they’d been given were for true. And since Jaehwan had magical blood— it was impossible to know how old he was. He looked sixteen, but gauging on Hongbin and Taekwoon, he was probably actually in his early twenties. Probably.
Wonshik rather thought his best bet would be to go through online copies of yearbooks from the local high schools, starting three years ago and working back. He figured he just had to find one of the boys, and the rest would follow. Surely. But there were quite a handful of schools in the vicinity and because he was fuzzy on their ages, it was giving him a very wide range of data to peruse. Not that he had anything but time on his hands. However, this was quickly becoming tedious, scanning page after page of names and faces. None of them were familiar. This plan would only work if they were from around here; none of the hunters seemed like they’d come from money, so he couldn’t imagine they’d have had the resources to pick up and move very far. But stranger things had happened.
His eyes fell to the side, where Hongbin’s phone sat, plugged into his laptop and charging. The screen was cracked, a spider’s web of lines, but it still worked, and it was not password protected, a fact that had surprised but pleased Wonshik when he’d first discovered it. Quickly though, he had realized why Hongbin hadn’t bothered to password protect it. The kid had no social media accounts, and no saved contacts. His inboxes were all wiped clean, as was his internet search history. He had many missed calls from myriad different numbers, but when Wonshik had tried to call a few back, he found they’d come from advertising companies, people hocking iffy insurance plans and used cars.
Dead ends everywhere, and Wonshik sighed. He’d give Hongbin his phone back, eventually. Probably sooner rather than later. But Hakyeon would be annoyed about it. Wonshik sensed the more time that stretched on without progress, the more cantankerous Hakyeon was going to become.
The screen of Hongbin’s phone lit up, a phone call incoming. Wonshik peered at the number, it was one he thought he had seen on the missed calls list, but not one he had tried calling back. It might be another spam call, or perhaps Hongbin’s workplace, if he had one— but it was somewhat late at night for either of those types of calls. And Taekwoon wouldn’t call a phone that he knew was missing.
Wonshik picked the phone up, nail catching along a scratch on the back of the case before he decided he had nothing to lose and a lot to gain. So he swiped to answer the call, murmuring a soft, “Hello?” He knew the static of the connection would mask the stranger qualities of his voice.
“Oh— I— hello?” The voice was high and feminine, unsure. Wonshik sat up a little straighter. “I’m sorry, I— who is this?”
Wonshik paused, but only for a moment. “My name is Wonshik,” he said carefully. “I found this phone on the street a few days ago, and there’s no numbers saved in the contacts; I wasn’t sure who to get ahold of to give it back. Who is this?”
“Oh, this is— it’s my son’s phone,” the woman said, and she sighed. “It isn’t like him to be so irresponsible.”
Family. A mother at the least. Wonshik’s brain was running quickly in short snaps. “I’d like to give the phone back to him if at all possible,” he said. “Is there anyone else I can contact to get ahold of him?”
He could sense her nodding. “His roommate, I’ll— wait a moment and I’ll find the number for you?” There was already the sound of shuffling.
“Sure,” Wonshik said easily, listening to the gentle sound of her breathing. Could he glamour her over the phone— possibly, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to try and alert her that something was off.
Her voice came back, a little flustered. “I found it, do you have a pen?”
“Yes,” Wonshik lied, and listened as she listed off a number that was surely Taekwoon’s.
“My son’s name is Hongbin,” she said once she finished relaying the number, “thank you for returning the phone to him—”
“I’m sorry,” Wonshik interrupted gently, “but can I ask where your son lives? We’ll have to meet, is the thing.”
“He’s down in the valley, by the Blue Hills— where did you find the phone?”
Wonshik ignored the question. “Ah, I live a bit far from there, I don’t suppose I could leave the phone with you instead?”
She stuttered, taken a bit off guard seemingly by his abruptness. “I live fairly far north, near the Clearwater Dam,” she said. Suspicion was edging into her voice. “If you’re nearer to me—”
“No,” Wonshik murmured. “I’m not, actually. I’ll call his roommate and work something out with them.”
“Oh, alright,” she said slowly, the words lilting almost questioningly.
“I’ll do that right now,” Wonshik said, “thank you, Mrs—”
“Kim,” she finished for him. “And I should be thanking you.”
“It’s no trouble,” he murmured, and hung up before she could say any more.
Clearwater Dam, Wonshik thought. It was no wonder he hadn’t been able to find any information on Hongbin, if that was where he originally hailed from. Or the others. It was over an hour north of here, and there had to be hundreds of schools between them. Wonshik’s search would have never gotten that far out.
But now he knew. A location, and a name. Hongbin, Hongbin Kim. He minimized all the windows on his laptop, opening a new search page so he could see which schools were around the Dam, and if any of their hunters had been in attendance.
Hongbin stood by the living room window, peering out over their dimly lit front yard. In the weakened light of their porch fixture the grass looked even deader than it truly was. The house wards were rustling, a vague, background annoyance, that served to constantly remind them that Sanghyuk was still lurking around.
Behind Hongbin, Jaehwan sat on the couch, legs tucked up to his chest as he zoned out. He wouldn’t tell Hongbin what Sanghyuk had said to him, but whatever had transpired, it had left Jaehwan wrong footed and thoughtful. The image of Sanghyuk’s large hands on Jaehwan’s narrow shoulders, his face nuzzling against Jaehwan’s ear as he’d whispered, was going to be permanently etched into Hongbin’s brain. Better his than Taekwoon’s, he supposed. Though he knew Taekwoon was going to pitch a fit when he found out. Possessive where he had no right to be.
Shadows were thrown outside as a car turned onto the block, and Hongbin tensed, not relaxing even when the car slowed in front of their house, pulled into their driveway, heralding Taekwoon’s safe return. Hongbin wasn’t sure he’d really thought Hakyeon would spirit Taekwoon away, but given what had just happened with Sanghyuk, it was looking like a valid concern. He wasn’t sure what they would do, if that happened.
The driver’s side door opened, and Taekwoon stepped out, seemingly all in one piece. With the interior of the car illuminated, Hongbin could see Hakyeon wasn’t in the passenger seat. Where he was, then, was anybody’s guess. Hongbin turned away from the window, looking back at Jaehwan. “Taekwoon’s back,” he said unnecessarily. The sound of the car door slamming would have tipped Jaehwan off well enough.
“Is he—” Jaehwan began, but the front door was already opening sharply, Taekwoon slinking in. Jaehwan jerked, his hand coming up to touch his ear, the one Sanghyuk had whispered into. As if Taekwoon would be able to see the ghost of Sanghyuk’s touch there.
The door had swung open with a violence that had Hongbin already bracing, but Taekwoon closed it with gentleness, and his eyes were closed when he leaned back against the battered wood, letting out a sigh that Hongbin would have classified as shakey.
There was a pause, where they all hung in the balance, still, waiting, and Hongbin felt like he had been transported back to the previous night, on the cusp of the same argument, hashed out and fallen on deaf ears over and over. But the Taekwoon of tonight seemed less, somehow, than usual, broad shoulders rounded and head tipped to the ground. Hongbin didn’t think this diminishment would render Taekwoon any more malleable to their reasonings, simply less likely to lash back. If they tried, he’d no doubt end up with a door closing in his face again. Just more quietly.
As Hongbin had that thought Taekwoon’s eyelids lifted, though he didn’t push off from the door. Taekwoon looked to Jaehwan, kneeling on the couch, his hand hovering up near his tainted ear but no longer touching it. He looked horribly guilty. Hongbin hated it.
“Glad you made it back in one piece,” Hongbin said in Taekwoon’s direction, but the words lacked any bite. They also lacked any warm sincerity. They may as well have not been spoken, but the silence had begun to grate on Hongbin, that strange electrical pull between Taekwoon and Jaehwan shunting Hongbin onto the fringes in his own house.
Hongbin was glad Taekwoon was back, and in one piece, but that was beside the point.
Taekwoon’s lashes fluttered, and he sighed, again, seeming to deflate all the more for the lessening of air in his lungs. “What did you mean,” he murmured in his usual soft tone, “when you said the vampires were getting more aggressive?”
“Oh, now you want to hear what I have to say?” Hongbin asked. “If you hadn’t left, you’d have seen what I meant yourself.” These words too, lacked any real bite. It was like Hongbin was following a script, an old one, the lines so repeated they were etched in his bones. “I’m not going to bother calling you, next time. We just wanted to warn you.”
“Next time, I’ll be here,” Taekwoon whispered. Hongbin’s eyebrows rose of their own volition. That would be interesting, but not in a good way. Interesting like a car crash. Airbag crushing against ribs and glass digging into skin.
Hongbin didn't say that. “Sure you will.”
Taekwoon stared down at the carpet, pockmarked with stains and thinning spots. If they had money, they’d replace it. If they had even more money, they’d put hardwood floors in. It was always an if. Never a when.
“What did you mean?” Taekwoon asked again, voice even smaller. He looked at Hongbin from across the room, and there was something in his eyes that gave Hongbin pause, made him wonder if tonight he should put the barbs in a drawer.
“I think he meant more persistent— persuasive,” Jaehwan said meekly. He shifted, sitting back down and bringing his legs out so his feet could rest on the floor properly.
Taekwoon blinked slowly at Hongbin, a strange sort of lack of comprehension in his eyes. Hongbin rubbed the back of his own neck, felt the prickly hair there. “Yeah,” he said lamely, “that’s what I meant. I guess.”
Another slow blink. “Tell me.”
Hongbin scowled over the order, but Jaehwan was already talking. “Hakyeon’s other child, the— the tall one, came to the door to talk to me. Trying to get me to tell him the spell, where his master failed. Don’t worry though, nothing— nothing happened, we didn’t tell him anything.” Jaehwan was looking at Taekwoon as he said it, but when he finished, and Taekwoon stared at him, he looked away, at his fraying jeans. There was so much he had left unsaid, and Hongbin knew why. But it left the two of them with a secret, and it was a secret that was also a puzzle. The whys of Sanghyuk’s behavior, his gentleness when he’d had Jaehwan in his sights, under his hands. It was going to be on them to dissect it without Taekwoon’s help, his anger too high of a cost to pay for his input.
“That doesn’t seem aggressive,” Taekwoon was saying in response to Jaehwan’s words, the words on target even though when Taekwoon spoke them, he seemed to be very far away. His mind was somewhere else.
“The manner of it was just a bit more direct than we’re used to,” Hongbin said and Taekwoon swivelled to stare at him instead. It was a slightly unnerving stare. Taekwoon was good at that, but it was normally deliberate— this wasn’t. This was the stare of a man who had seen a ghost. A man who had just seen a ghost. “Taek, what happened on the hunt?”
Blink. Blink. “Nothing,” Taekwoon said. Hongbin knew him well enough to know it wasn’t exactly a lie— more like an untruth Taekwoon was trying to make true by saying it. He did that a lot. Mainly with his feelings in regards to Jaehwan. And his brother. And vampires. Really, Taekwoon just had a problem with feelings.
Which really made Hongbin wonder what had happened on the hunt. Because it had probably involved feelings. And Hakyeon.
Aggressive. Persistent. Persuasive.
“Taekwoon,” Jaehwan sighed, and it was inhuman, somehow. Like a breeze rustling through golden autumn leaves. Jaehwan shifted forward, as if he was going to stand. “Will you—”
“I’m not going to hunt for a few nights.” Taekwoon moved before Jaehwan could, pushing off from the door and stepping towards the hallway, signalling an end to this conversation. “There’s too many VCF around right now, and there’s no point anyway if I can’t shake the vampire tail.”
Taekwoon’s face was averted from them, so he missed the way Hongbin and Jaehwan looked at one another, eyebrows raised in silent mutual surprise.
Sanghyuk’s leg swung in the empty air, the bumpy branch digging cruelly into his spine, bark leaving imprints on his ass and the backs of his thighs. He hadn’t trusted the rope of the old tire swing to hold his weight, and laying on rooftops under the open starry sky was so— well, it was very Wonshik. It was for a daydreamer. Nightdreamer. Whichever of the two a vampire could be. Sanghyuk wasn’t really either.
So he laid on a tree branch, thick and solid, lounging like a misshapen jungle cat. The tree’s leaves were mostly yellow and brown, curling in on themselves in death. The moonlight didn't break through them, not yet.
He’d scraped his palms against the winter-rough bark as he’d climbed, dry and gritty. The sensation had done nothing to wipe away the memory of Jaehwan trembling beneath his hands, the sorcerer winter-rough in his own way. Sanghyuk squeezed his hands into fists, until his knuckles went pale yellow, and then let the fingers relax once more. The small abrasions from the climb had healed. The tingling in his fingertips from Jaehwan remained.
“Sanghyuk,” Hakyeon’s voice said from below, and Sanghyuk let his head loll to the side in answer, to show that he hadn’t fallen asleep on the job. He hadn’t even heard Hakyeon walk up, not a whisper of sound from the browning grass or the graveyard of leaves over it. But he’d heard Taekwoon’s car, the slamming of the door. He’d been waiting. “What are you doing up there?”
“Thinking,” Sanghyuk said. He sensed rather than heard Hakyeon’s huff of irritation, and he grinned up at the canopy of gold above himself.
“I meant why, why are you up there?” Hakyeon clarified. “And come down.”
Sanghyuk sighed, and so did the tree, leaves brushing against each other in the light breeze. It would be cold for a human. But Sanghyuk felt the cold simply as a fact, rather than a sensation. He sat up, knowing flakes of bark were probably stuck to his jacket and pants, peppered in his hair, and not much caring. Hakyeon peered up at him from between his boots, eyes seemingly glowing in the dark. In the overlong grass, he too looked like a misshapen jungle cat.
Sanghyuk pushed off, floating in the air for a blink before his feet hit ground, silent as a thought. His maker still had to peer up at him when he straightened, but less so. “I wanted to give them a little space,” Sanghyuk said, in answer to Hakyeon’s question. “And there is nowhere else to sit, aside from the swing, which didn’t suit me.”
Hakyeon hummed, eyes going to said swing, then the swaying grass beneath it. There was a tear in his lovely cream sweater, a bloodless gash just under Hakyeon’s left collarbone. Through the slash in the cashmere Sanghyuk could see smooth golden skin peeking through.
Sanghyuk reached out, touching the edges of the tear, noted how clean they were, made with a blade rather than snagged on something jagged. Deliberate rather than an accident. “Your hunter took a swipe at you?” Sanghyuk asked, brow arching.
“No.” Hakyeon twisted gently, so Sanghyuk’s fingertips lost contact with the little tear, and Sanghyuk got the hint and dropped his hand. “The opposite, actually. I gave him a chance, and he didn’t take it.” Hakyeon‘s lashes lowered prettily, his right hand coming up to lightly place fingertips over the tear himself. The almost reverent touch reminded Sanghyuk of the way a young girl would handle her first gifted rose. Then Hakyeon’s eyelids raised and the jungle cat was back. “What happened while I was with him?”
Sanghyuk eyed the hole in Hakyeon’s sweater, letting himself wonder what exactly had happened for an indulgent beat, before turning his attention to the house, the ambient glow coming from the windows. “I spoke to the sorcerer,” Sanghyuk said. “Jaehwan. Just to see if I could get a feel for him, maybe get him to slip up. Try and convince him to take our deal.”
Hakyeon didn’t pick at his choice, didn’t question why, if he had failed, did Sanghyuk think he could succeed. He simply asked, “And?”
Sanghyuk gave a one shouldered shrug. “I got more of a feel for him, definitely. He is guarded, he isn’t going to slip up, he’s too sharp.” He licked his lips. “But I think he will yield. In the end.”
“Yield,” Hakyeon repeated, gaze keen. “Yield to the deal, or to you?”
Were he human, Sanghyuk might have turned a little pink. But as it was, his skin remained corpse-pale, and he said equably, “Well, both. I hope.”
The corners of Hakyeon’s mouth were tight. “Be careful, Sanghyuk. You’re playing with fire,” he murmured, and Sanghyuk looked pointedly at the little patch of skin showing through the wound in Hakyeon’s sweater. Hakyeon’s only response to that was to sigh, heavily. It sounded like a surrender. “You’re so stubborn.”
“I learned from the master,” Sanghyuk said, grinning widely over his own joke. Hakyeon slid him a glare.
“Go home,” Hakyeon said, peeved even as Sanghyuk continued to chortle. “I’ll babysit them until sunup.”
“I’d like to stay, actually,” Sanghyuk said, and Hakyeon looked at him in mild surprise. “Wonshik texted me to say he’s possibly got a lead. I think you should go see what he’s dragged up.” Sanghyuk also just liked the peace of being here, the house’s wards fizzling against him, and the soft, indistinct sounds of the humans inside. He wanted to get his head together. He wouldn’t be able to do that elsewhere.
Hakyeon’s eyes narrowed. “He didn’t text me.”
“Because he didn’t want to distract you from sweetums,” Sanghyuk replied, and Hakyeon puffed up so fast Sanghyuk expected to see steam shoot out of his ears. “He knew I’d tell you once you came back here.”
Hakyeon growled. “Don’t leave until dawn is imminent,” he ordered, and then he was gone. His feet made no more noise as they moved over the ground than they had when he’d arrived.
Sanghyuk sighed, and the tree did too. He scraped his palms on its winter-rough bark as he climbed back up. The abrasions healed. The tingling of Jaehwan’s magic remained.
Sanghyuk wondered, idly, as he leaned back on his sturdy branch, how long his lips would tingle for, if he pressed his mouth to Jaehwan’s.
Taekwoon’s door was closed, but light poured out from the crack at the bottom. The beast still stirred. Jaehwan touched the door lightly, called out, “Taekwoon?”
It took a few seconds of patience, but then the door was opening, swinging away from Jaehwan’s fingertips. Taekwoon had changed into his sleep wear, a simple black tank top and grey sweatpants, his hair a little askew from the swap. It reminded Jaehwan of a juvenile raven after a crash.
Taekwoon glanced over Jaehwan’s shoulder, looking for the ever-present shadow, and Jaehwan said, “Hongbin’s eating. I just wanted to see if you were alright. You seemed—” like something had gone terribly wrong “—a little off.”
“Mm,” Taekwoon said, not insulting Jaehwan’s intelligence by denying it. “Everything is off. Everything is wrong.” His mouth pressed into a grim line, the familiar weight of self-loathing dragging his lashes down, gaze to the floor. Jaehwan recognized it well. He just didn’t know why it had made a resurgence. Though he could guess.
“We’re here, you know,” Jaehwan said, a feeble offering. He knew Taekwoon would never confess his sins to them. “I know the three of us don’t agree on everything, but we love you. I love you. And we’re at your side.”
Taekwoon swallowed, gaze still on Jaehwan’s socks. The right one was nearly worn all the way through at the toes. “I know, Jae,” he murmured. “And you?”
Jaehwan frowned. “Me?”
Taekwoon’s eyes lifted, glittering black in the low light. “You seem off too.”
Jaehwan looked back at Taekwoon, and they shared a moment where both of them knew something had happened with the other, that neither was going to divulge their secrets, and that both parties weren’t going to voice any of this aloud. Jaehwan’s ear tickled, and he fought the desire to rub the sensation away. Vampires didn’t need to breathe to survive, but they needed to in order to talk. Jaehwan wouldn’t have expected the air to be warm.
“I think I’m going to be alright,” Jaehwan lied.
Taekwoon nodded, a little. “Me too,” Taekwoon lied.
Their eyes met. Neither of them mentioned it.
Almost as soon as Hakyeon was opening his grand front door, Wonshik was calling out his name. His voice was low and rough, and it reverberated beautifully off the walls of their home. How different it was, from Taekwoon’s feather soft lilt. The hunter’s voice was tender rose petals concealing wicked thorns, while Wonshik’s was gravel crunching underfoot masking marshmallow fluff.
The memory of silver on his skin burned. Hakyeon wondered when his preferences had changed.
“I’m coming,” Hakyeon called back, following the echoes of Wonshik’s voice into the kitchen, where Wonshik had laid himself out a nice spread.
Hakyeon looked over the notebooks and post-its, pencils and multi-colored pens, and rather thought they were scattered around for aesthetic rather than function. Wonshik was like that. He’d probably gotten it from Hakyeon.
Wonshik grinned up at him from his perch on a stool at the island, and it was less joy and more something feral. Hakyeon didn’t return it, understanding. “You found something important,” he said. It wasn’t a question.
“Not much, but a start,” Wonshik said. His fingertips tapped lightly on Hongbin’s phone, resting beside his laptop. “I found the high school Taekwoon graduated from. It’s up by the Clearwater Dam, in a shitty little hole in the road of a town called Hope. A lot of the kids in his graduating class looked pretty damn rough— and he graduated five years ago, because I can tell you want to know—”
“So he’s— twenty-two?” Hakyeon asked, mostly thinking aloud. The thought was slightly mollifying. He had known Taekwoon was young, but the harshness of his demeanor— Hakyeon would have thought he was nearer to thirty.
“Probably something like that,” Wonshik said, gaze measured. “I haven't done any more searching on him specifically, I was trying to see if I could find Jaehwan or Hongbin on the records of the same school, but so far no dice.”
“They may have gone to another school,” Hakyeon said absently. He bent to look at Wonshik’s laptop screen, to better study the rows of small pictures, names neatly typed beneath then. Taekwoon’s picture didn't stand out, not a bit, but there he was, a little softer in the jawline, hair unevenly cut, but unmistakably him. Hakyeon could see what Wonshik meant about the kids, they all had that slightly jagged edge to them, that said they had lived their school lives less concerned with varsity sports and more worried about if they were going to be able to eat breakfast the next day.
Kitten, Hakyeon thought, wondering what his life had been like, what had carved him into the person he was.
“Hongbin has ties to the Dam, which is why I started to look in the area,” Wonshik said, and Hakyeon was barely listening. “And there aren’t any other schools super nearby, and the kids from Hope, uh, probably wouldn’t fit in elsewhere anyway.”
Hakyeon hummed, straightening. It was a start. It was a lead. It was more than they’d had before.
Wonshik’s eyes had lowered, catching on the tear in Hakyeon’s sweater. “What happened there?” he asked.
Hakyeon covered the tear, turning away. “Keep digging,” he whispered.
The sky was grey and pale, with that semi-translucent quality that reminded Taekwoon of skim milk. He thought he’d woken early, that the sun hadn’t broken over the horizon yet, but underneath the cool light coming in through his blinds, his alarm clock read out in blazing red numbers that it was nearly noon. It was simply going to be one of those days, where the sky and the trees and the world just never fully woke up.
He laid there, legs tucked up so they wouldn’t stray from under the warmth of his blankets. The birds that dotted the scenery outside were black, and not delicate at all. Probably ravens. He knew he should get up, pull himself together, but he was afraid to break the spell, afraid to face whatever waited for him once the cold air hit. So for a while, he watched the birds circling in the air through his window, waiting to see if the grey beyond them would solidify into clouds, or dissipate and give way to sharp blue. It didn’t, and eventually, the birds went away, and Taekwoon’s alarm went off, an awful, banshee shriek of a sound.
He reached out from under the covers, switching it off, and the cold air immediately raised goosebumps along the bare skin of his arm. It seemed to grip his heart, and for a moment he was overwhelmed with a surge of anxiety, and the urge to cry. But he swiftly rolled upright, swinging his legs out of bed and standing, and tamped it all back down. He was irresistibly reminded of old war movies, the motion of packing gunpowder into a musket, readying for the blast. But it was all he could do, tamp it down, pack it away. The explosion wasn’t happening today.
Taekwoon tugged a light cardigan on, because the house was chilly, but he forwent socks in some show of penance. His phone blinked sleepily at him, and he took it with him into the kitchen. The whiteness of the room greeted him, like a winter snowscape. He grabbed a can of coffee out of the fridge before sitting at the table, already regretting his lack of socks.
The pantry door was closed, as it should be. And the house seemed quiet, which would denote Hongbin was still sleeping, as he should be. It was a cold comfort, to know that some things hadn’t utterly fallen out of alignment.
Taekwoon closed his eyes. There it was, ugly in the cold, sterile light. The thing Taekwoon had been trying so hard not to look at. What he’d done. How he couldn’t undo it.
He’d let a vampire live, last night.
It didn't matter, Taekwoon told himself, Hakyeon wasn’t a danger. The vampire didn’t kill people, not anymore. So it had said. Taekwoon didn't know if it was the truth.
He’d let a vampire live.
Because Taekwoon hadn’t wanted to kill Hakyeon last night, and didn’t want to now. He didn’t think he would mourn Hakyeon, exactly, if he suddenly stopped coming around, but neither did he think he would feel the better for having been the one to finally bring the vampire’s long life to an end. So it wasn’t that he necessarily wanted Hakyeon to— not be dead. He just hadn’t acted to kill him. Was inaction the same as compliance?
He’d let a vampire live.
Again, he thought of Hakyeon’s body on the ground, blood pooling out from his slim frame and pretty eyes glazed and empty as glass marbles, and found himself shying from the image. It discomfited him. He didn’t like that it discomfited him. Hakyeon was nothing but a vampire, and the loss of him would only mean good things in Taekwoon’s life. Yet even as he had that thought, he felt ashamed.
He’d let a vampire live.
He’d let Hakyeon live.
They were one and the same, and yet one sentiment felt as drastically different from the other as fire and ice. Though they both burned in their own way.
Taekwoon opened his eyes. He couldn’t undo it. Even if he got another chance, and slid the silver into Hakyeon’s heart, it wouldn’t change the fact that he’d let him go once. Taekwoon wished he could stop thinking about it. He’d been hurtling through his life, a fighter jet fueled on his hatred of vampires, and now he’d hit a mountainside and it had stopped him with abrupt cartoon comicalness. And in the stillness afterwards, he hated how he couldn’t stop second-guessing everything about the choices he’d made.
Why do you get to play judge and jury and executioner? Hakyeon had asked, and Taekwoon knew it wasn’t fair for him to play any of those parts, but he never had been. The trial was over. Taekwoon was always the blade. Nothing more. Thoughtless and unbiased, doling out sentences already made. But he couldn’t be a blade, anymore, if he’d made an exception. If he’d become biased.
He heard Hongbin’s voice hissing in the back of his mind that he had always been biased, and the corners of his mouth tightened. But there was biased and then there was biased. Taekwoon hated vampires, but so did most everyone else, they were murderers and the government’s official line was they needed to be exterminated one way or another. So maybe Taekwoon was biased in that, but he sure as fuck wasn’t wrong.
Now, though. Now. Picking and choosing was bias. And it was hypocritical. And Taekwoon didn’t like it. He didn’t want to think of Hakyeon as— as anything but a thing. It was easier. It was meant to be easy. It was meant to be black and white. In every VCF training book it had been as crisp as freshly minted bills. And Taekwoon had read quite a few. Reality had always mirrored those small, printed words. The only part of vampires Taekwoon had ever seen were the bodies they’d dropped like breadcrumbs and the blood smeared across their mouths. That had been, Taekwoon wanted to believe, all that those vampires had ever been.
But Hakyeon, Hakyeon—
“No,” Taekwoon said, his voice strangled. Somehow the word was still loud and jarring in the silence, and Taekwoon tamped all his thoughts down again, down into the barrel of the musket, down into darkness underneath a little lead bullet, down down down. Maybe he was going to go off, but it wasn’t happening today.
He picked up his can of coffee and opened the tab. The label was done up in autumn colors, warm tones not deterred by the cold light. Taekwoon’s hands looked dead as they wrapped around it, skin so white it looked blue. The coffee was bitter and wonderful on his tongue, and he let the scent of it put him back into his own skin, settling into himself with an efficiency. He reached for his phone, swiping away the email notifications and opening his news app. The headline for the local area was about the VCF setting up office in their county police station, but there was nothing about an attack happening the previous night. Which was good, Taekwoon told himself. Maybe the vampires doing all the killing had left. Maybe they would have peace.
It was good, he thought. It was good. He didn’t have to feel guilty for staying in for a few nights, if things were quiet.
A few nights in.
The icy walls felt like they were closing in. The packed down gunpowder thoughts sat like a weight inside Taekwoon.
It was good.