He smelled the blood as soon as he stepped out of the car. Min Tae-yeon paused there, as though surveying the scene, breathing slowly and trying not to focus on it. He'd smelled blood before; he would be fine.
Deliberately, he stepped away from the car and moved toward the apartment building, step by careful step. His pace was slow, both to allow himself to adjust as the scent grew stronger and to hide his nervousness.
A week ago, he would have had no nervousness to hide. But a week ago, he'd been human.
He nodded at the police by the door and they nodded back. All routine, nothing unusual here. None of them wished him well or told him they were glad he was back, but he didn't mind. Tae-yeon had never encouraged that kind of familiarity. That was for other people, those whose backgrounds were impeccable, not for orphans like himself.
Once he stepped through the open door of the apartment, however, the routine was over. He'd known there would be a lot of blood; the smell wouldn't have been so strong otherwise. But he hadn't been prepared for how overwhelming it would be. Here, where the scent was so strong it was almost tangible, he couldn't look away from the scarlet spatter that seemed to paint the walls and floor.
He hadn't been ready, he admitted to himself in a brief moment of clarity before the scent and sight overwhelmed him. He'd expected this to be no worse than walking past a street food vendor while hungry, but food never smelled like this – complex and layered, telling a story it took all his effort not to heed. He closed his eyes and clenched his fists, lips clamped tightly together to hide the fangs. He could do this; he <em>had</em> to do this. Tae-yeon tried to ride it, to surf the reaction rather than swimming in it, where he might drown.
“If you're going to be sick, do it outside!”
The insistent voice brought him out of it, the voice and a hard punch to the shoulder.
“You must have been more injured than I thought. You're acting like this is your first corpse.”
It wasn't much, but it was enough of a distraction that Tae-yeon felt his fangs recede. Slowly, he opened his eyes to see Detective Hwang's grinning face.
“This is your case?” he asked, though it must be, if he were here. Hwang Sun-beom was far too lazy a detective to show up at someone else's crime scene.
Hwang nodded, completely unperturbed by Tae-yeon's cold demeanor. “And it's your first case back. So,” he gestured toward the body Tae-yeon had been trying hard to avoid looking at directly, “what do you think?”
Robbed of his excuses, he looked, trying to see the body itself and not the blood. What had happened here? He paced around it, examining the scene just as he would have before everything changed. He could do his job the same way he always had. Nothing had changed about that.
And yet, what had he thought before? The blood wanted to tell him a story. And what was that? He closed his eyes again, listening, and he saw it, saw the crime played out on lids that hid glowing irises.
“He played with her. Cut her over and over and let her think she might escape. He only went for the kill when she was too weak to make it fun for him.”
He opened his eyes to find Detective Hwang staring at him. “How did you know that?”
He hadn't meant to say it at all; he'd just seen it so clearly, like a movie for his eyes alone. Even as he walked the room again, pointing to telltale blood spatters, Tae-yeon knew he'd risked his secret.
Lucky for him, Detective Hwang wasn't known for his observational skills. “Wow.” He said the word in English, drawing it out for emphasis. “How hard did you hit your head again?”
Smiling a little to himself, Tae-yeon just shook his head in reply. In instances like this, any excuse would only serve to draw more attention to what he'd just done.
“Call me when you have anything.”
* * *
Walking out of that room had been easier than he'd expected, despite the blood scent trying to entice him back. But once home, Tae-yeon found he couldn't get it out of his mind. Who would have killed this woman in such a brutal way? Was it really a stranger, visiting his sadism on the first target he found?
He had plenty of other things to think about, but the case kept intruding. He couldn't shake the feeling that there had to be something more, something he'd missed. Finally, acting purely on the strange instincts he was only beginning to learn to live with, he went back to the crime scene.
The room was dark now, the body gone and with it, all the activity its discovery had brought. Had he believed in ghosts, he might have thought the room haunted. But Min Tae-yeon had never believed in the supernatural and, even now, that hadn't really changed. No, if this room was haunted, it was only for him, because of what he'd become.
Alone now, with no one to observe or question, he knelt, concentrating on the blood that had yet to be cleaned. It was mostly dried now, but that made little difference.
Cautiously, he reached out a finger, dragged it through a puddle that had been deep enough to still be a little damp, then raised it to his lips. The part of him that had once been human cringed, but the vampire welcomed even this tiny amount eagerly enough.
He didn't know what he'd expected. For it to taste old and stale, yes, perhaps. Maybe he'd even taste the fear he could smell so clearly. But he saw far more than that.
The victim was on the ground, bruised and bleeding, so afraid she could barely focus. He saw the knife and, more than that, he saw the hand that held it, a young man's hand wearing a heavy gold ring.
He didn't want to see more, but the connection the blood had forged between himself and the victim held him tightly, held him bound to her as the knife struck home, as she bled out. Tae-yeon's body arched in pain and he finally wrenched himself free, shuddering with the force of her death.
Before, if he'd been asked, he would have said that death didn't hurt. It was living that caused all the pain; death itself was a peaceful release. A woman who died a death like this should have welcomed it. But release and peace had nothing to do with what he'd just felt.
Hands still shaking from the force of it, Tae-yeon pulled out his phone and dialed Detective Hwang. He didn't know how he'd explain this, but he wasn't thinking about that. He'd felt her die. And he'd get her justice, whatever it took.
* * *
“The victim was Yang Eun-bi, age 28. She worked as a student teacher.” Here, in his office, with no corpses and no distracting blood scent, Tae-yeon was in his element.
“That's right,” Detective Hwang agreed. “But why look that up yourself?”
Tae-yeon ignored the question, leaning back in his chair and toying idly with a pen. “Did she have a boyfriend?”
“We asked her roommate and she said no. The victim had no luck with men.”
“The roommate is the one who discovered the body?”
“You already know that.”
“And she'd recently lost her only family." He said it coldly, a brief statement of fact, though he couldn't suppress the twinge of sympathy at this reminder of his own loss. "Have you spoken to the teachers and principal of the school yet?”
Tae-yeon ignored his protests and excuses as easily as he'd ignored the earlier question. This was one case he was determined to solve. “I'd like to talk to them myself.”
* * *
The principal of the school led to the teachers, the teachers led to students. Three days later, Tae-yeon found himself in an interrogation room with a student he was certain was guilty. It wasn't just his hand, nor the ring he wore – all seniors at that school had such a ring. No, it was something else, instinct, or maybe just experience.
Unfortunately, this boy, Choi Min-ho, was also precisely the kind he hated to question – intelligent and privileged, so convinced of his own safety and superiority that he felt no fear. Or perhaps it was more than that. Maybe he was a true sociopath, unable to experience fear himself, even if he enjoyed seeing it in others. Choi lounged beside his lawyer despite the uncomfortable interrogation room chair, the picture of arrogance, and denied everything. Yes, certainly he had disliked Miss Yang – she was too strict and punished him despite the status that insulated him from the wrath of most teachers at his school. But that didn't mean he killed her.
With a cold smile, he challenged the prosecutor to prove otherwise.
He expected Tae-yeon to give in, to release him despite the fact that they both knew he was guilty. After all, in his experience, that's what everyone else did. Everyone, that is, but the victim.
But in that instant, Tae-yeon realized what had made him so certain this boy was the killer and he knew he'd won.
“You're right that we're missing some crucial evidence,” he agreed. “We didn't find the murder weapon at the scene.”
No reaction, but he hadn't expected one. Of course the murderer in question knew that.
“I'd have expected the killer to have thrown it away, or at least have washed it thoroughly. But you didn't, did you? You keep it with you. Perhaps it's your trophy, your reminder of how you made that woman suffer for trying to teach you properly.”
He stood, then, and held out his hand. “I'll have the knife. I know you have it on you.” Later, he'd wonder how that was possible, how a high school student had gotten a weapon into the interrogation room without anyone realizing.
Tae-yeon should have been expecting the attack, should have had time to react. He was fast, inhumanly so – he should have been able to dodge it, at least. But he hadn't seen it, hadn't expected this languid sadist, so smug in his superiority, to lash out like a snarling dog.
He cried out, curling protectively around the wound as the scent of his own blood overwhelmed the traces of the victim's that had given away the murder weapon. The boy's lawyer grabbed him and Detective Hwang came in to lend a hand. Together, they managed to subdue the boy, and take the knife from his hand.
It was only then that Tae-yeon noticed the direction of the detective's stare. He wasn't looking at Choi Min-ho, though he should have been. No, he was staring at the rip in Tae-yeon's shirt – a rip that revealed bloody, unmarked skin.
* * *
It was quiet on the roof, with a breeze that might have been chilly if he still felt such things. Hwang Sun-beom shivered a little, at least, but he didn't suggest a change of location.
“You smelled her blood on him?”
“And you can do that anytime? Just sniff criminals out? See how crimes happened, even what the victim saw?
He nodded again, smiling faintly, though his gaze was directed out at the city instead of the man beside him.
Without permission or warning, Detective Hwang switched to informal language. “This'll be great! If you can do that, crimes will be easy to solve. Criminals won't be able to hide from us!”
Tae-yeon started at the sudden use of banmal. When he spoke, his reply was just as formal as it had always been. “Us?” he asked. “There is no us. We solved one case.”
But as he turned and walked away, he found he was still smiling. He and Hwang Sun-beom weren't friends and, had he been given a choice, he wouldn't have chosen him to confide in. But now that he had, he felt lighter, as though someone understood him, despite the fact that he and this punch-happy detective couldn't have been more different. Tae-yeon shouldn't have trusted him, should have worried about his discretion, but he found himself oddly confident that he wouldn't be betrayed, even by mistake.
He wasn't ready to be familiar, to call him friend, much less hyung. But he already knew his statement had been a lie. There was an “us”, a partnership created by a secret shared. Such a bond would inevitably erode the distance between them.
When that time he came, he thought he'd welcome it.