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Wolfsbane

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Jeongguk had never liked Halloween. It was less of an issue with the day itself, and more with how he’d never been allowed to join in the festivities. Even though Halloween had still been a somewhat foreign concept while he grew up, there were still pockets of children meandering the streets with bags to fill with all the goodies they could scrounge up, dressed as vampires and pumpkins and whatever superhero was ‘in’ that year. It was a day of fun and candy and playful scares, and every year he’d spent it watching from the bedroom window whenever his parents weren’t checking in on his studies.

It wasn’t like missing out on games and fun was new to him. He wasn’t the oldest of the Jeon brothers, but the pressure was always there to not fall into Junghyun’s shadow. That sibling rivalry had been ingrained into Jeongguk’s brain from early on, so he rarely complained when it cost him the opportunity to be the child he actually was. Make friends, hang out at the park, see movies or play arcade games, it all came second place to being the best in his studies. He was used to it. He lived for seeing his name at the top of the exam scores, and the praise it earned from his hard-to-please parents. Maybe he enjoyed showing up his brother a bit too much, but it was hard not to be proud of those moments when Junghyun was such a worthy opponent.

Jeongguk was used to not having the more traditional version of ‘fun’. Halloween was just the one day he wished differently.

“Are you guys going to the new haunted house in Junggok-dong?” His hands paused in shoving his textbook back into his bag, ears perking up unintentionally at his classmate’s discussion. Jeongguk glanced over at them from under his solid black fringe.

He’d been hearing about this haunted house all week, as group by group, the whole school seemed to make their way through it’s dark, creepy halls. Jeongguk knew the haunted house was for ages 16 and up only. Something about local parents finding the maze of fake gore and actors’ screams too graphic for their children. While Jeongguk was used to being the youngest in the room after skipping a grade in primary, he knew for a fact the kids laughing about it now were only 14.

“Yeah. Did you hear, half of class B gave up halfway through. Two upperclassmen shit themselves when a zombie nurse jumped out at them.” The daring grin on Jongin’s face was mirrored in Chanshik’s. Dowoon looked squeamish.

“Shit, it’s that bad?”

“That’s what they say. C’mon, you’ve handled worse. It’s all fake anyways. The actors can’t even touch you, it’s against the rules,” Jongin laughed, shouldering his bag. “It’s Halloween. Let’s do it! Your parents won’t give you hell for missing hagwon once. You even went on your birthday.”

Dowoon swayed from the friendly shove. “I don’t know man. You know I can’t do horror.”

Jeongguk dropped his pen in the middle of stuffing it into the case, drawing their attention. “Hey, Jeon. You want to come with us?” Chanshik asked, zipping up his bag. “Have you ever been to a haunted house before? It’ll be fun.”

“They’re not going to let him in, he’s obviously under 16,” Jongin huffed, looking Jeongguk up and down. Jeongguk resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Yeah, his growth spurt hadn’t hit yet. But he had more muscle than all three of them, thanks to being on multiple sports teams. That was something else besides his studies he had to be best in, even if he was shorter than the rest of his classmates.

Chanshik snorted out a giggle-laugh. “And we aren’t? Come on. You can keep Dowoon company,” he clapped the apprehensive kid on the shoulder. “How about it? Not scared, are you?”

For a moment Jeongguk was tempted. It would be fun. He’d outgrown being scared of the dark a while ago. Horror movies hardly phased him on the rare occasion Junghyun smuggled one into their TV. He could handle a fake haunted house. His competitive side just wanted to go so he could prove he wasn’t a coward.

But unlike Dowoon, he would get his ass beaten if he dared skip out on hagwon for something as silly as a haunted house he wasn’t even legally old enough to get into. There was no explaining that to his parents.

“I’ll pass,” was Jeongguk’s reply once he’d swallowed down the sour taste, pulling his bag over one shoulder.

Chanshik’s expression fell, before he picked it back up with a resigned sigh. “Aish, it was worth a shot.”

“Can I pass too?” Dowoon asked hopefully even as he was dragged towards the door by the other two. Jeongguk bit down the spike of jealousy. It would have been nice to have friends that would drag him out regardless, even if it left a mess to explain afterwards. He held in a sigh as he meandered out of the classroom and through the school halls.

It was brisk outside, not cold enough to see his breath but getting there. Breathing out slowly and looking up at the rapidly darkening sky, Jeongguk heard a loud laugh from his right and cast his gaze towards the group of kids gathered on a stone ledge. Some he recognized from his year, some from the year upper. But the kid talking the loudest was definitely in his class, arms flailing in gesture and heavy country accent cracking with puberty.

“I shit you not, his fangs were as big as my pinky finger,” he waved around said pinky finger, sticking the tip under his upper lip to give a better sense of scale. It muffled his voice as he kept right on talking. “His face, it was covered in blood. Like dripping down his chin. Like he dunked his face in a blood fountain. When he saw me, he snarled like a wild dog. I never ran so fast in my fucking life. If it weren’t for the police station literally being right there I would have been— I ain’t joking! I would have been vampire food! Blood bag AB deluxe!”

That earned more laughter and shouts of disbelief from the group huddled around him. Jeongguk couldn’t resist the eye roll. The new kid was weird. Last week he’d lined the whole classroom with salt to keep out ghosts or something. Not vampires, apparently salt didn’t work on them? Jeongguk hadn’t been listening. And it had been someone else’s job to clean up the class that night, so he hadn’t really cared past the initial what the fuck is this kid doing with a giant bag of table salt.

It wasn’t the first time Jeongguk had seen him surrounded by people telling some farfetched tale or another. Jeongguk doubted the crowd around him actually believed a word of his stories. More like the novelty of the new kid being a whackjob hadn’t worn off yet. They’d get bored with him by the time exams started.

Or maybe not. Maybe other kids loved fake vampire attack stories. He wouldn’t know, considering he didn’t talk to his classmates outside of schoolwork.

The laughter followed Jeongguk down the steps, lips curled in amusement despite himself. His mother had mentioned going back to visit his grandparents in Busan over the break if he did well. Vampires weren’t real, but his parents expectations were. He had enough to worry about with those, thanks.

 

*~*~*~*~*

 

It was midnight by the time Jeongguk left hagwon, eyes weighed down by invisible chains and body movements lethargic. A cold wind blew through his frame and he shuddered, pulling his jacket tighter around himself as he set off down the street to the bus stop. All he wanted to do was collapse on his bed and sleep until his alarm went off at 6am, but he still had an assignment to read over, and another chapter in his math textbook to complete. Sleep had to be postponed for a while longer.

Even so, he nearly nodded off on the bus ride back home. The bus’ old, rattling heater provided warmth and comfort against the cold night, and made it worth putting up with the obnoxiously loud teenagers and children dressed in all sorts of crazy costumes. A vampire in full Count Dracula attire climbed on three stops after him and Jeongguk held in a snort. There was even fake blood on his lips, looking more like sticky nail polish under the bus’ yellow lights.

The cold air revived him once he stepped off the bus and headed towards the dark mountains bordering Seoul. They looked particularly ominous tonight, treetops rustling in the wind and gleaming under the light of the full moon. His parents had been happy to find the tiny house out in the middle of nowhere, a full twenty minutes walk from the edge of the trees. Jeongguk’s relationship with their home was love-hate depending on the day. There was something calming about sitting out on the porch watching the trees and listening to nature while he studied, or the way snow covered the branches in winter. But as he trekked up the long, winding road barely wide enough for one car let alone two, habitual curses fell from his cold, shivering lips. He really had to invest in a bike, cut the long walks in half and not have to leave for school half an hour earlier than the majority of his classmates. Maybe if he aced the next exam, he could convince his parents to get him one.

The lights were on in the living room as he stumbled up the porch steps and opened the door. The cold air seemed to follow him in even after he closed the door, Jeongguk frowning as he slipped his shoes off and leaned into the living room. The television was on to his mother’s favourite drama, but the female lead’s high-pitched voice reached out to an empty audience. The living room was empty.

Jeongguk shrugged out of his jacket and hung it up next to Junghyun’s, placing his school bag to the side. The umbrella stand was knocked over, the keys to his father’s car half-hidden behind it. Jeongguk set the stand straight and placed the keys on their hook before he staggered into the kitchen. He was halfway through grabbing a can of ice coffee to keep his brain firing through the last round of schoolwork when he felt a cold draft send shivers down his spine.

He turned, gaze casting towards the back door. It hung ajar, rocking slowly as the night air rushed in and stole the warmth away from the house. Weird. Jeongguk set the can down and walked over to close it.

His fingers touched the doorknob and it fell out onto the ceramic floor with a startling bang, rolling away. The outside half of the knob was missing, sitting innocently on the steps down into the shadows of the back yard. Jeongguk stared at it in dull surprise, tired brain taking a moment to process what had just happened.

“...Mom?” He called back into the house. “Dad? The back door’s—” His fingers slid down the side of the door and caught. Jeongguk looked down to see the deep gashes on the edges of the wood, like claws had torn strips in the solid surface.

Claws, or a knife.

The chill that ran down Jeongguk’s spine had absolutely nothing to do with the cold air wafting around him and sending goosebumps along any exposed skin. The silence in the house wasn’t new; his family were quiet people. But now it felt oppressive, sparking a warning in the back of his brain.

He walked back to the stairs, eyes casting around for any sign of his parents or brother. Now as he made his way down the hallway, Jeongguk’s eyes lingered on the oddities he hadn’t noticed right away in his sleep-deprived state. The photo frames on the wall were ajar. More deep scratches like those on the door littered the floor, and the walls. Jeongguk’s fingers dipped into a damaged piece of drywall, white showing through the paint.

Jeongguk grabbed the stair railing, startling at an unexpected dampness on the pads of his fingers.

They came away red. Slow droplets of blood dripped down his fingers.

Jeongguk’s throat closed, the tickle of liquid on his skin burning like fire as it traced down to his palms. The female lead on the evening drama was laughing at some poor comedic joke and it echoed in his ears as his gaze slowly lifted towards the darkened top of the stairs. The hand not covered in blood blindly reached back, fingers curling around the handle of his mother’s oversized, metal-tipped umbrella.

Maybe he should have gone for a better weapon. Maybe he should have run, grabbed his phone and gotten the hell out of there. But Jeongguk’s brain had shut down, and the only thing he could think of was the blood on the stair railing and the fact that everyone’s shoes and jackets were still in the doorway, undisturbed.

He set one foot on the first stair, then on the second. The sounds from the television masked the thundering of his heart in his chest as he crept up towards the second floor.

Jeongguk saw the light reflecting off the hallway ceiling first, shining out of his brother’s open bedroom door. A soft crackling sound echoed down the hall, like Junghyun’s fingers tapping against his keyboard as usual but inconsistent, hollow.

Save for that light, the hallway was cast in shadow. It was for that reason Jeongguk didn’t register what the large lumps on the floor were until he was three quarters up the stairs.

Then his eyes focused on a gaping mouth open in a mockery of a scream, jaw half ripped off and blood dripping past lipstick-coloured lips onto the hallway floor. The umbrella fell from Jeongguk’s limp fingers with a clatter, rolling back down the stairs and making a racket as it went. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t do anything but stare in numb horror at his mother’s body, ripped open at the chest and missing an arm, spread out like a mannequin with it’s strings snipped. Her remaining arm lay outstretched towards the stairs as if still trying to crawl away.

Jeongguk barely had time to register the second lump belonged to his father before a low rumble cut over the choked whimpers crawling out of his throat. Something moved and like a startled rabbit, his eyes snapped to the shadow as it slunk out of Junghyun’s open doorway.

It was wrong to call it a person. It was humanoid, sure. It stood on two legs, albeit hunched over with long forearms close to pressing clawed fingers into the bloodsoaked carpet. But no human had long fur like a dog and a massive, elongated muzzle protruding from the center of its face, sopping wet and red. Those yellow eyes were crazed, burning brightly and near glowing in the darkness of the hall. Hairy lips curled back into a snarl, flashing fangs as long as...

As big as my pinky finger. His classmate’s words echoed in the back of his brain. But this was no vampire. Vampires weren’t real. This thing wasn’t real—

A snarl tore out of it’s throat, deep and bloodthirsty, and Jeongguk ran.

His flight down the stairs and out the front door barely registered in his brain, cold wind whipping around him. Something crashed behind him. He didn’t turn around to see what, lengthening his stride and ignoring the pain of rocks jamming through his socks into the soles of his feet.

The nearest neighbor was a five minute walk down the road. If he could make it there, he would be safe, he would be—

Claws sank into his shoulders as a heavy weight slammed him face first into the pavement. The sting of rocks tearing through his palms and chin was nothing compared to the hot breath that huffed against his neck, claws puncturing skin like knives. Jeongguk screamed bloody murder in the hope it would scare the thing off, or attract attention, anything.

His voice rose sharply in pitch as fiery pain tore down his arm, teeth ripping right through his school blazer and down to bone.

Bang. Bang.

The gunshots registered a solid ten seconds after they’d rang out. Jeongguk’s blurred and greyed vision slowly returned. The weight on his back that had crushed him down and probably cracked a rib or two was gone, but the pain wasn’t. He sobbed, fingers of his mangled arm twitching as blood ran down the digits. Something howled nearby, then broke off in a whiny yelp more reminiscent of a kicked dog than a bloodthirsty monster at the echoing ring of a third gunshot.

Fourth. Fifth.

Then silence fell.

All Jeongguk could hear for a long minute was his own choked breaths and the rustle of the wind. His whole body felt cold and numb, save for the burning in his arm and where the claws had taken gouges out of his shoulders.

When something crunched nearby he forced his head up, glazed eyes casting around until they landed on a man.

The man held his gun limply at his side, face cast in shadows as he looked at the massive beast slumped on the road by his feet. The creature wasn’t moving, and Jeongguk could barely make out the blood staining it’s matted, dirty fur. The only movement came from the breeze gently ruffling through the long hairs, impartial to the massacre that had just occurred.

Jeongguk only realized he was still making pitiful sobbing noises when the man turned towards him. He didn’t even have the presence of mind to flinch back as the figure approached, footsteps crunching against the road in a rapid stride before the man knelt beside him.

“Shit… hey, kid… can you hear me?” Fingers brushed against Jeongguk’s hair before starting to turn him over. Jeongguk screamed at the pain that shot down his arm and spine, head hitting the pavement limply. Was he crying? It felt like it. But it was hard to tell what was tears and what was blood.

“Hey… hey… you’re going to be okay. I’ve got you. Hoseok you chicken shit, get over here and bring my bag!” The stranger’s voice rose in a holler and Jeongguk swallowed down the bile threatening to rise up his throat with the sobs. “Listen,” the man’s voice dipped down again, apparently speaking to Jeongguk. “I need you to open your eyes and look at me. Can you do that?”

Jeongguk hadn’t even been aware his eyes were closed again until that moment. Opening them again was harder than expected, and his vision swayed and wobbled.

“Good.” There was a kind-looking face gazing down at him, the outline of short hair illuminated by the full moon above. “We’re going to get you all patched up.” Gravel crunched and scattered by Jeongguk’s head and suddenly there was someone else there, breathing in heavy pants as a large duffel bag was shoved into the man’s hands.

“Is he going to be okay?” The new arrival had a young voice, just past the cracky squeaks of puberty. “His arm... Hyung, his arm—”

“I know. Just hold him still for me. Hey, kid. I need to bind your arm before you lose more blood. It’s going to suck, but you’ll be fine.”

Jeongguk blinked blearily up at them, a whimpered sob bubbling out of his lips. He wanted to refute that statement, the image of his mother and father’s mutilated bodies burning in his mind. No, it’s not going to be fine. But hands were holding down his shoulders as the man moved to his other side.

“Got him, Hoseok?”

“Yessir.”

His arm was pulled straight and Jeongguk screamed as the fire in his veins shot straight to his brain. Everything went grey, then blissfully dark.

 

*~*~*~*~*

 

7 years later

Click. Click.

Snicker.

Click.

Jimin’s head jolted up from where it lay on his desk, and something clicked again. It took Jimin a second to figure out what was going on, but then his sleepy gaze focused on Taehyung’s cheshire grin poking out from underneath his camera and an indignant shout echoed through the class. Jimin’s chair scraped against the floor as he flung himself out of his seat at his best friend.

“Give me that camera!”

“No way!”

“I swear if I catch you, it’s going in the pond you creepy little fucker!”

“Look who’s calling who little—”

“GET BACK HERE KIM TAEHYUNG—”

Excuse me.” The two men froze in place, Jimin’s fingers hooked into the back of Taehyung’s shirt and Taehyung’s arms extended above him in a ridiculous effort to keep his precious twelve-million won camera out of his friend’s pudgy little fingers. They both blinked at the teacher staring at them from the front of the class.

“Class doesn’t start for another five minutes, but that doesn’t mean you can run around like a bunch of cretons damaging school property.” She gave a pointed look at the scattered desks and chairs in their wake, leaving a clear path of destruction, like a miniature tornado. One of their classmates was picking up his scattered papers, grumbling under his breath. “Either sit down, quietly, or leave.”

“Yes, seonsaengnim,” Jimin chirped, and all-too-bright smile on his face. Taehyung was still holding his camera up above his head like he was auditioning for the Lion King, so Jimin elbowed his side none-too-gently.

“Yes, seonsaengnim,” Taehyung grunted at the elbow, resisting the urge to kick Jimin back (both his arms were occupied). She continued to stare at them, the two reluctantly shuffling back to the corner Jimin had previously occupied. Jimin had one of the best seats in the class; far corner, where the teacher didn’t care if you were listening or napping as long as you weren’t disturbing the rest of the class. Blood had been shed for those back seats.

“Ass,” Jimin whispered, no maliciousness in his voice as he sat back down.

“Cute ass,” Taehyung amended, removing another student’s bag from the seat beside Jimin’s to plunk himself down (you claimed a seat with your ass, not your bag. Rookie mistake). Hooking his camera strap around his neck again, he grinned as he looked down at the preview. He’d caught Jimin mid-blink, eyes droopy with sleep and mouth open unattractively. That was blackmail quality right there. “How was your break?”

“Boring. Sane. Just the way I like it.” Jimin eyed the camera but didn’t make a mad grab for it again. “You better delete that.”

“Sure,” Taehyung hummed, making no move to do any such thing.

“Taehyung.”

“Yeah?”

Jimin squinted at him, then gave up. “How was your trip to Daegu? How’s halmeoni doing? Getting plenty of help on the farm?”

Taehyung’s eyes lifted off his camera, and a slow grin spread on his lips. “Oh Chim, have I got a story for you.”

Uh-oh.

Setting his camera down on the desk, Taehyung turned to root around in his bag. Jimin raised an eyebrow despite himself. For Taehyung to put his baby down, he must be excited. That camera had cost him four years of saving every won he could get his hands on. “So I was walking around the fields last week, around dusk, right? Cause that’s the best time to catch all sorts of weird shit. But I took a wrong turn and ended up in some meadow on the other side of town, unowned land— nearly busted an ankle in a groundhog hole. But then I saw them, and took this!” He slapped three printed photos down on Jimin’s desk with a dramatic flourish.

Jimin squinted down at the dark fields of wheat. He assumed it was wheat. Taehyung was a masterpiece with a camera but he’d clearly not been set up for quality photography in pitch darkness. “What am I looking at exactly?”

“These! This, right here!” Taehyung jabbed his fingers at the faint spots of light floating over the field in the distance.

“Lamps?”

Taehyung gasped at him. “You think I nearly sprained my ankle taking photos of lamps? Those, Park Jimin, are will-o’wisps!”

“...Which are?”

“Spirits. Fairies. Not sure which yet, they disappeared before I got too close. But I doubt they’re spirits cause ghosts ain’t that beautiful. They were gorgeous, Chim.” Taehyung’s eyes sparkled with that light they always got when Taehyung talked about anything beyond their world. Which was often.

It was his hobby of sorts… well, his parents called it his hobby, after 'phase' stopped becoming acceptable in Taehyung's books. 'Phase' implied something he would grow out of within a couple months, a year, maybe two. But no, seven years later Taehyung was still hunting down the demons and spirits of the world with glee, purchasing any and all books on the occult and stringing garlic along his windows to prevent vampires from entering.

("Don't you have to invite a vampire in, though? Isn't the garlic just overkill?"

"Don't question my methods. Until you know which piece of lore is real and what's Twilight nonsense, better safe than sorry.")

Anyways. His parents called it his hobby, Taehyung referred to it as a lifestyle. Jimin for his part, was just glad Taehyung wasn’t into tinfoil-hatted illuminati theories. He could handle vampires. And… will-o’wisps.

"So are they the good kind of ghost-slash-fairy? Or should I run away screaming," Jimin yawned into one hand, picking up one of the photographs with the other to squint at it. Still looked like lamplight to him. Or fireflies.

"Good, I think," Taehyung said, picking up his camera and flipping through the previews to show Jimin the multiple other photos he'd snapped before the lights had disappeared. "Better than most other fairies, definitely. Except for brownies… man, I would love to have a brownie around the house."

"Having a fairy helper clean up your messes isn't going to get your mom off your case, Tae."

"It's not my fault my room's always a mess! It's Namjoon. He keeps breaking shit."

"Sure—"

"The fuck are you doing in my spot?"

The sudden interjection behind Taehyung caught their attention, and Taehyung looked over his shoulder at a rather annoyed-looking student. He had a friend with him, and the bag Taehyung had discarded to the side in one meaty hand. "That's my seat."

"Didn't see your name on it," Taehyung shrugged, shutting off his camera and snapping the lid over the lenses.

"I put my fucking bag on the seat, dipshit," the kid growled in a way that Taehyung assumed was supposed to be threatening. But really, he'd seen far more threatening things in his short life so he just blinked up at the guy with a totally unimpressed look.

"Don't bother, man," Angry Guy's friend nudged his arm. "He's got a few screws loose. How's the imaginary friends doing, Kim?"

Taehyung beamed a smile, recognizing this other fellow from high school. One of the guys who'd found his stories fun the first couple of weeks before the eye rolls and condescending comments started. "They're doing just fine, thank you for your concern. Though they'd be a little pissy if they heard you calling them that."

"I'm so scared," snorted Asshole. "What are you gonna do, sic one of them on me? Or maybe one of your vampire friends." Shoving Angry Guy's shoulder, he headed towards the other side of the room. Angry Guy scowled down at Taehyung before following.

"Do people have nothing better to do?" Jimin sighed.

"Eh. Whatever makes him feel better about himself." Taehyung had already turned back towards his camera, bored.

The teacher started the class shortly after, and Jimin paid attention while Taehyung doodled in the corners of his textbook. It wasn't that he was unmotivated in university; he'd worked his ass off to get here after all. It was just he didn't see the use for a humanities class when he was majoring in photography. No one cared how well he did in it, as long as he squeaked by a pass. Even Art History was more interesting than this, and that teacher spoke in one long monotonous stream of static. At least he had Jimin here for company, one of the few plusses of general electives. He would have never seen his business major BFF otherwise.

("Hey, if we pair your business-running smarts with my talent in everything supernatural, we could be the first company to specialize in Vampire Tourism. All the darkest, chillest vacation destinations complete with blood type preference matching with local censuses—"

"Listen to the teacher, Taehyung. I'm not lending you my notes after class.")

Ten minutes into a will-o’wisp sketch on page 50, Taehyung felt a prickling sensation in the side of his face. The odd feeling of being watched. Odder still because he and Jimin were in the back row, and when he peered up at the teacher all he could see were the backs of students' heads. But the prickling sensation continued, and he cast his eyes around until they landed on the far side of the back row.

There. Charcoal black eyes met his own, and Taehyung raised an eyebrow at Jeon Jeongguk in a silent the fuck are you staring at me for? Jeongguk blinked back, expression as stoic as ever before he turned and faced the front again, as if Taehyung hadn't just caught him boring holes into the side of his face.

Taehyung stared at the younger man for a couple minutes longer, mentally daring him to try that again. Jeongguk didn’t rise to the bait. The teenage kid standing behind his chair and leaning casually against the wall did, one eyebrow raised in a mockery of Jeongguk’s expression, but Taehyung wasn’t concerned with him.

When five minutes passed, he recognized he was being ridiculous and faced the front of the room again with an inner huff.

He'd been in Jeongguk's class since transferring in from Daegu right until high school graduation. They'd never really spoken more than a few words to each other, especially after what Taehyung had dubbed 'The Incident' and which to this day Jimin is forbidden from mentioning for fear of finding a bottle of spiders in his backpack.

Jimin would also say it wasn't really that much of an incident, at least to warrant such a name, but Taehyung would disagree. Jimin wasn't the one who'd thought of 17-year-old Jeongguk as Hot As Fuck and bought him a whole accessory set of protective herbs and stones because someone that hot was sure vampire bait. Taehyung was just looking out for his fellow man, okay? Definitely just trying to be a good classmate. And definitely not because he had the sudden thought that he wanted to be the only one biting into Jeongguk's neck (even his neck had bulging muscles when he angled his head just so, lord have mercy on Taehyung's soul).

He may have included a small confession inside the box, but no one had to know that but him.

Anyways, that was all besides the point. Taehyung had presented Jeongguk with the necklaces and charms and been ever so charming himself, not coming off as a total creep. He'd spent hours painstakingly selecting each and every single one, and—

What did that little shit do?

Toss it all straight in the trash. Asshole didn't even bother to hide it from Taehyung. The rational part of Taehyung's brain knew Jeongguk probably hadn't expected Taehyung to tail him after gifting him the charms, but the rational part of Taehyung's brain was not involved when it came to petty grievances against stone-faced pretty boys.

("Fuck you Jimin, I'm not being petty."

"Then get over it and stop hissing every time you see him look in your general direction.")

Taehyung snuck another glance towards Jeongguk in the corner. The other man’s attention was solely focused on the teacher by then, whatever momentary fascination he’d had with Taehyung lost. Every now and then his fingers would tap along the leather bracelet adorning his wrist, glossing over the material absently. Taehyung wished Jeongguk would wear short sleeves once in a while, because he bet his muscles flexed with every small movement. The kid was ripped. Taehyung thought back to the time when Jeongguk was the quiet, tiny kid in the class before puberty hit like a fucking train. Suddenly Jeongguk wasn’t just good at school and at the top of every single subject. No, now he was good at sports, ridiculously handsome, and everything he touched practically turned into gold. The guy even knew suhwa. That golden nugget had come out when a deaf-mute girl transferred in and the teacher was struggling to tell her what they were studying. Jeongguk oh so casually held an entire conversation with her out of nowhere.

(“Dude, how did you learn suhwa?” One of the other guys in the class was gaping at him when it was over.

Jeongguk shrugged. “My brother was mute.”

Jeongguk’s brother was dead, everyone knew that. That killed conversation fast.)

Long story short: Jeongguk was hot and talented, yes. But he was a hot and talented asshole and Taehyung wasn't into jerkfaces, thanks. Nor someone who couldn't appreciate all the hard work that had gone into preparing the greatest vampire-werewolf-ghost-demon-fairy repellent of all time. Taehyung could have patented that shit.

Instead he'd given it all away to a cute boy, and that was the last time Taehyung followed up on one of his many, many schoolyard crushes. At the very least, Jimin hadn't had to punch someone in the face for calling Taehyung a faggot that time. Change of pace, for what it was worth.

Though maybe that had been why Jeongguk tossed his present. Maybe he was worried Taehyung had slipped a love potion in there somewhere with his sneaky gay fingers.

Please. As if he needed a love potion's help to get laid.

Really!

"Taehyung." Jimin's fingers snapped in front of his face and Taehyung startled, looking at his friend with wide eyes and a dumb expression. "Class is over. You've been staring at the blackboard with this constipated look for the last hour."

Taehyung blinked, then glanced towards Jeongguk's corner. The asshole and his teenage shadow were gone. Good riddance. “Yeah. Yeah, sorry, let’s go,” he hopped to his feet, wrapping his camera strap around his neck.

 

*~*~*~*~*

 

“Hey, Nams. Check this out. Two new bodies found in Dapsimni-dong, necks slit.

“That’s right across the river,” Namjoon observed absently from Taehyung’s bed, legs crossed as he read through the textbook propped up on a pillow. He hated being called Nams, but Taehyung wasn’t to be dissuaded and he’d resigned himself to hoping the younger man got bored of the name eventually.

“Yeah,” Taehyung chewed on the end of his pencil, ignoring the small pieces of bitter eraser left on his tongue. “Same spot as before the break too. That makes what, ten in Dongdaemun-gu total? Unless there was more while I was in Daegu. Was there?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Namjoon shrugged, glancing over at him. Taehyung popped the end of his pencil into his mouth, freeing both hands to type into Naver’s search bar. It wasn’t too hard to find old news stories, the key words were always the same. Somewhere on Dongdaemun, dead bodies, neck slit.

But that wasn’t the part that interested Taehyung the most. It was never mentioned in the article, but the bodies were always found with far less blood in them than normal.

Yeah, their necks were always slit which would guarantee a huge loss of blood before the heart stopped pumping and all blood flow in the body ground to a halt. But Taehyung had been curious enough to get his hands on the tiny handful of circulating photos in the dark corners of the internet, photos taken when the bodies had been found but before police and coroners swooped in. One look at those gruesome photos had confirmed his suspicions. It wasn’t mentioned in the articles ever, but there was no blood found around any of the bodies. The usual pool of red from a slit throat was missing.

So where had all that blood gone then?

“Fucking vampires,” Taehyung announced around the pencil in his mouth, far too excited for the subject matter. “I knew it. Jimin thought I was jumping the gun but he’ll have to agree after this last batch of dead people.” He spun around in his chair, grinning at Namjoon. “They slit their victims necks to hide the bite marks. Duh. It’s so obvious.”

Namjoon glanced up at him with a faintly amused smile. “Yeah. Suppose it is.” He looked back down at the textbook, ever so carefully turning the page.

“I’m gonna catch’em,” Taehyung declared, and Namjoon choked.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

Taehyung gave him a questioning look. “Course. I’m an expert on vampires and all things supernatural. You think the police would be able to handle a bunch of sneaky vamps? They still think it’s some lunatic serial killer. Though I guess vampires do fit that description,” he amended thoughtfully, balancing his pencil on his upper lip.

Namjoon didn’t look like he was buying it. And sure, maybe calling himself an expert on all things supernatural was a bit much. But Taehyung at least knew what he was up against, unlike common law officials. Unless there was some giant cover up by the government about the existence of supernatural creatures which he hadn’t ruled out just yet. Especially in this day and age with everything just one video away from viral. It struck him as very, very suspicious the detail about the missing blood was always left out of the official news reports and left to circulate in the backwaters of the darknet where no sane person went. Taehyung felt permanently scarred for life from some of the things he’d seen on the darknet.

But he was getting carried away. Obviously, police couldn’t handle vampires, and Taehyung could. He’d seen them before, after all. And his eagerness to get involved with this case was in no way looking for validation from any of the people who’d called him crazy or off his rocker over the years.

He didn’t give a fuck what those people thought.

But if he could at least stop Jimin’s raised eyebrows and skeptical backtalk, then he’d be happy. His best friend teetered on the edge of belief and Taehyung knew he’d have to get his hands on something better than a couple blurry will-o-wisp photos to convince him Taehyung didn’t belong in a mental institution.

“I should pay a visit to MANA this weekend,” Taehyung clicked his tongue, catching the pencil as it dropped from his lip. “Stock up on supplies.”

Namjoon sighed heavily, shoulders slumping. “I can’t stop you from chasing after vampires, but try not to get yourself killed?”

“Don’t worry, even if I did I’d probably haunt my camera for the rest of existence,” Taehyung patted the camera on the desk affectionately. “And I already told my mom to leave it in my room and never move it so hey, you’ll have company.”

“Not reassuring. If you get yourself killed, who’s going to bring me new books to read?”

“I’ll leave it in my last will and testament. Regular monthly deliveries of boring-ass textbooks to my room.” Taehyung wrinkled his nose at the textbook Namjoon was reading. “There are much more interesting things to read, you know.”

“I finished everything else while you were in Daegu,” Namjoon retorted, eyes scanning the last few paragraphs of the page. “And this isn’t boring. Staring at the ceiling for weeks, that’s boring.”

“I’ll get you more books from the used bookstore tomorrow,” Taehyung waved one hand, watching Namjoon try to turn the page.

And nearly jumped out of his skin when the book suddenly flew across the room and knocked over the floor lamp with a bang and clatter. The top of the lamp landed in his pile of dirty laundry, sparing a broken bulb. The chatter of his brother and sister elsewhere in the house cut out as the collision rang through his bedroom door and through the house’s structure.

“...Oops,” Namjoon uttered sheepishly.

Taehyung snorted out a laugh, climbing to his feet. “Don’t know your own strength, huh? We’re going to go back to the fan setup if you keep throwing shit around my room.” At least there were no holes in the wall this time. He walked over to the textbook, picking it up and tucking it under his arm as he bent to pick up the lamp. The shade was dented from the fall, but it wasn’t like half his stuff wasn’t damaged in some way. Taehyung was used to it by now.

The day Namjoon accidentally broke his camera though, heads would roll.

“Taehyung-ah?” His mother’s voice floated down the hallway. “Is everything alright? What was that noise?”

“We’re okay eomma!” Taehyung yelled back. “Just knocked the lamp over.”

Footsteps approached the bedroom door, and it opened with a click. His mother leaned in, brows knit in confusion and graying hair falling out of it’s bun as she cast a look towards Taehyung. “We?”

“Yeah. Namjoon and I. We’re alright,” Taehyung huffed out a laugh, righting the lamp and adjusting the shade. He turned it around so the dented side was facing the wall. There. No one would ever know.

An odd look crossed her face, expression pinching before she sighed. “Okay. Don’t forget to eat Tae-yah. And open your window, it’s stuffy in here.” She left the bedroom door open as she walked away, calling to Taehyung’s little brother to turn the volume on his video games down.

“Why does she never close the door,” Taehyung huffed, doing that. He turned around to the bed and shot the textbook like a basketball. It sailed right through Namjoon’s head, earning a yelp of surprise. The book hit the headboard with a thunk and fell harmlessly to the mattress. “He shoots, he scores!”

“Thanks.” Namjoon rubbed the spot on his forehead where the book had passed through, then gave Taehyung a pointed look. Taehyung grinned sheepishly before shuffling over and setting up the textbook again in front of him.

“Pitch it at the wall again and we are definitely going back to the fan.”

“The fan setup was ridiculous. It turned the pages too fast.” Namjoon waited patiently for Taehyung to set up the book at the optimum angle. “And then your mom never put it back at the right position every time she came in to clean.”

“Can’t do anything about that,” Taehyung said, stepping away once he’d flipped the book to the proper page. “It’s a pity you fry all electronics. The internet would amuse you infinitely more. Hey, I know! I can set my laptop to one of those 10-hour porn videos before I leave tomorrow.”

Namjoon gave him an aghast look. “No. I don’t even want to think of your mother walking in on that.”

“Wouldn’t be the worst thing she’s walked into,” Taehyung shrugged, sitting down on the edge of the bed and flopping onto his back. The book bounced a little but didn’t fall out of position. “Eh, I guess it would be pointless anyways. You can’t even get off. Can you? I’ve always been curious.”

“I am not having this discussion with you,” Namjoon replied firmly, ears burning a bright red as he stared down at the textbook like it was the most interesting thing in the world.

“I’m just saying. Not like anyone else would know. That would be some extreme kink right there. Reverse-voyeurism? Does it count as public masturbation if no one can see you?”

Taehyung.”

“Dropping it.”

 

*~*~*~*~*

 

The shine of the streetlight above was blocked by a shadow, and Taehyung looked up to see Jimin peering down at him questioningly. “What are you doing still hanging around here? Your last class finished ages ago.”

“People-watching,” Taehyung replied absently, and Jimin snorted as he sat down under the tree next to him. Taehyung had spread out a blanket to save them sitting in a half-melted snow pile. This early in March it was still a little too chilly to comfortably sit outside, but it was so much easier to get quality pictures this way.

“Creep.”

“You love me though.”

“In the most platonic, bromantic way possible.”

The people-watching had been only half-true, really. Mostly, Taehyung had been waiting around for Jimin to finish class so they could grab some food together. It was either that or go back home early, and as much as Taehyung loved Namjoon’s presence and appreciated him, the spirit never left his bedroom. Couldn’t, really. Taehyung suspected that had been where Namjoon had died once upon a time, but couldn’t really confirm it because Namjoon himself had no clue how he had died. Or much about who he had been when he at some point in time had been alive. And as tactless as Taehyung was about loving everything to do with supernatural shit and creeping around the darknet and probably doing about twenty things a month that could get him killed, he didn’t have the guts to bring it up to his parents.

Hey, not to freak you out or anything, but there’s been a spirit in my bedroom ever since we moved in and I’m pretty sure he died there, do you know who owned the house before us? Or before them? I don’t know how long ago he died, he’s kind of got memory loss.

He’d end up in a psychologist’s ward for sure.

Either way, Taehyung needed company that wasn’t his ghostly roommate every now and then, and Jimin’s smiles and laughter were good for his soul. He may have had a teeny tiny crush on him once upon a time, when Jimin first found his anti-vampire stash of mirrors and silver jewelry and just fixed him with a bright, amused grin and a compliment on his jewelry tastes. But Jimin, sigh, was straight. And Taehyung wasn’t about that unrequited romance bullshit. He didn’t have the attention span for it.

“How do you feel about hunting vampires with me this weekend?” Taehyung asked, adjusting a setting on his camera. His breath puffed out in front of him in a slow mist.

“Depends if you plan on doing anything illegal,” Jimin shrugged, tapping away on his phone.

“Like?”

“Breaking and entering, assault with a cross, dunno. The usual.”

Taehyung wrinkled his nose at his friend. “Is that what you think of me?”

Jimin fixed him with an amused look, lips curling. “Remember twelfth grade, when you thought the janitor was a warlock because he wiggled his fingers and some kids tripped down the stairs?”

“Yeah?”

“And you climbed in through the window of his house to see if you could find his ritual circles and spellbooks?” Jimin raised an eyebrow at Taehyung. Taehyung just blinked blankly back at him from over his camera.

“And?”

“Taehyung. That’s breaking and entering.”

“The window was cracked open already. I didn’t break anything, so half that statement is technically invalid.” Taehyung lifted his camera, snapping photographs of a gaggle of students passing by. They were heading into the campus for evening classes, the sun just a faint gleam on the horizon and darkness settled around them.

Jimin just shook his head. “I’m going to have to bail you out of jail one day, aren’t I.” He didn’t say anything about the camera; Taehyung didn’t go through a single day without at least a hundred new photos in his card. Half because he was always on the lookout for something supernatural in those photos, and half because he just really loved spontaneous photography and knew all the right angles to make his subjects shine.

But Jimin did casually turn the lens away from a couple of girls before his best friend really was taken for a creep.

“Relax, we’re not doing anything illegal. And I’ll get us all the proper protection and stuff.” Taehyung snapped a photo of a gorgeous looking blond guy with a guitar strapped to his back, humming happily. “I know a place.”

“So why the sudden vampire hunt?”

“There’s just some stuff nearby I wanna look into. Possible vampire activity. You know? Gotta go out and do some in the field research, it’s not like a vampire is just gonna waltz by—”

“Course,” Jimin snorted. When Taehyung didn’t respond, he glanced up from his phone to see his best friend staring dumbly at his camera preview. “Tae?”

Taehyung blinked once, twice. “H-huh?”

“What is it?” When he still didn’t get a response, Jimin leaned over to see the camera screen. It was just a picture of the sidewalk. “You hit the shutter by accident?”

Taehyung shook his head mutely. His eyes lifted up from the camera to Guitar Guy casually walking away. Just to be sure, he hurriedly lifted his camera and snapped another photo of his back.

When he pulled his face away to check the preview, there was a gap in the crowd of people where Guitar Guy had stood.