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peek a boo!

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Donghyuck lives in the two-story house at the very end of a cul-de-sac on Lily Avenue.

 

(“It’s pretty funny, isn’t it? Since lilies are like… symbols of death and stuff?”

 

Sooyoung shoots him a smirk. “So you’ve been studying.”

 

Donghyuck scoffs, sinking further into the couch. “I looked it up on Wikipedia.” But the truth is, he has been studying. He’s always studying.)

 

The neighbors mostly leave his family alone, because they’re either too old to worry about what might happen to them, or to new to know any better. Donghyuck’s house is painted in dark grey hues, contrasted only by the bright green vines growing along the pillars on the front patio. It sticks out like a sore thumb among the pristine white and pastel along the rest of the street.

 

Needless to say, they don’t get many trick-or-treaters during Halloween.

 

But home is home, and Donghyuck couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. It suits his family, anyhow.

 

He walks up the rickety steps to the front door and winces at the noise. Someone is really going to have to fix that soon, and he hopes it doesn’t have to be him. When he’s at the front door, he puts his hand on the doorknob, and waits for the surge of energy to course through him. There’s a series of muffled clicking noises as the locks undo themselves, and Donghyuck waits to turn the knob and open the door.

 

The inside of the house is not much different from the outside. The walls are dark brown, with scones set dim to light a path down the halls. The carpet is an ugly pastel green (Seungwan’s idea), and there are mismatched armchairs set about. Donghyuck toes his sneakers off and puts them on the shoe rack, before grabbing his house slippers and putting them on.

 

“I’m home!” he calls out, frowning when he’s met with no response. He leaves his backpack at the base of the stairs before walking further into the house. He has to duck his head to avoid hitting himself with all the potted plants hanging from the ceiling (Joohyun’s doing), but at this point, he’s used to it. Donghyuck knocks on the frame of the moving ocean painting three times for good luck, before stepping into the kitchen.

 

He sighs in relief to find it empty, though the island is covered in with a pile of dried flowers and a shovel covered in dirt (Joohyun’s gonna be mad about that one). Sensing an opportunity, Donghyuck goes to one of the cabinets in the far corner and squats down to open it slowly, quietly.

 

“Victory is mine,” he murmurs, reaching into the very back of the seemingly inconspicuous cabinet, filled with empty mason jars, before his fingers latch onto the plastic packaging of the Oreo’s he hid there three days ago. But when he draws it out, his victorious smirk drops into a frown, realizing the package is empty.

 

“What the fuck,” Donghyuck hisses, opening the plastic flap and confirming his worst fear: all the cookies are gone. Left in their wake is a bright pink slip of paper.

 

Nice try. Carrot sticks are in the fridge.

 

“Fucking hell,” Donghyuck groans, getting up and tossing the package in the trash. Who knows what Joohyun did with the cookies. When he opens the fridge, he finds the carrot sticks in a small tupperware container.

 

“I hate you,” he says vehemently, to the carrot sticks, and viciously takes a bite. He’s going to have to get more creative with where he hides his junk food, or just keep resorting to pigging out at Jeno’s house. Donghyuck doesn’t know how the hell Joohyun found out, but he’s learned that she has Ways that are difficult to comprehend.

 

Taking his cursed after school snack with him, Donghyuck ventures further towards the back of the house. The television in the living room is on, a news channel set at low volume. From the French glass doors, Donghyuck can see Seulgi sitting on the back patio, so he steps out to greet her.

 

“Hey, you’re home,” Seulgi says with a smile. Donghyuck sits next to her on the canopy swing and immediately tucks into her side.

 

“Carrot stick?” he offers.

 

Seulgi takes one with a grin. “Joohyun found your cookies huh?” she says, turning her attention to Joohyun, who’s trimming the rosebushes with a ridiculously large-brimmed hat on.

 

Donghyuck sighs, munching loudly enough that Joohyun stops what she’s doing to glare. “My mother won’t let me have any fun.”

 

“Junk food is bad for you,” Joohyun says plainly, before snapping her pair of large shears closed around a branch.

 

“I’m a teenager, I’m allowed to live a little.” Joohyun rolls her eyes, while Seulgi giggles and takes another carrot stick.

 

“Yeri’s not home yet?”

 

“She said she’s going shopping with Saeron. I had to walk home today,” Donghyuck sniffs indignantly.

 

“Poor baby,” Seulgi coos, just shy of teasing. Donghyuck scoffs, pressing his nose into her shoulder. Seulgi smells like jasmine and verbena, and it’s comforting. Familiar.

 

“What’s wrong?” she asks immediately. Donghyuck sighs, pushing up the sleeve of his hoodie to reveal the inky black marks trailing up his arms. Seulgi makes a quiet noise, gently taking Donghyuck’s forearm and tracing along the lines on his wrist. “This is new.”

 

“Hurts like hell,” Donghyuck mutters, wincing, because the skin is red and tender as it always is when he gets a new rune. The pain fades, along with the mark-- until it’s needed, of course.

 

“Sooyoung’ll get you some aloe. Put it on before you go to sleep tonight.”

 

“Yeah yeah.”

 

 

“There’s enough food in the fridge for like a week, but we shouldn’t be gone that long,” Seungwan says, heaving a large suitcase into the back of her Jeep. It lands in the trunk with a loud thud. “Use your card if you need groceries.”

 

“No junk food,” Joohyun says, stern as ever.

 

“Of course,” Donghyuck says, knowing full well he’s going to subsist off of Top Ramen and cool ranch Doritos for at least the next five days.

 

“If you don’t feel safe--”

 

“Invite my friends over, I know, I know.” Donghyuck rolls his eyes. It’s always the same routine when his family goes on a Hunt. Donghyuck can easily defend himself-- he’s been trained by the best, after all-- and yet, they still treat him like a baby. (Not that he minds, of course. He just has to pretend he does.)

 

“Call if you need anything. Which means don’t call,” Yeri says, smirking as she hops into the back seat. Donghyuck yelps when she reaches out of the window to ruffle his hair.

 

“Stay safe. Text us every day,” Seulgi says, kissing Donghyuck’s head before getting into the car herself. Seungwan does the same, joining Yeri in the back.

 

“Study those spells I told you about,” Sooyoung says, leveling Donghyuck with her most serious glare.

 

“Whatever.”

 

“We’ll be back soon,” Joohyun says, her voice soft now, reassuring.

 

“Stay safe,” Donghyuck says, pulling her into a hug. He presses his face into her hair, trying to memorize her smell. It’s always like this-- the anxiety of watching them leave, having to wait days, sometimes weeks, not knowing if they’ll be back. But the moon is almost full in the sky, and duty is calling.

 

“You too. I love you, Duckie.” Joohyun has to tilt her head up to meet Donghyuck’s gaze. There was a time when he was shorter than Joohyun. Now he towers over everyone in his family, even though he isn’t exactly tall by any standards. Still, the tiny woman standing in front of him is probably the strongest, most powerful person he knows.

 

“Love you, mom.”

 

Joohyun pinches his cheek, quirking her lips up in a rare smile, before hopping into the driver’s seat. “We’ll be back soon. Stay out of trouble. And take your vitamins.”

 

“No promises,” Donghyuck replies, as usual, and stands in the driveway, waving, until the Jeep turns the corner. The last thing he sees is Yeri flipping him the bird from out the window, before they disappear from view.

 

Hit with that familiar loneliness, he heads back inside the house, waiting for the locks and deadbolts to set back into place before climbing up the winding staircase up to his room.

 

Donghyuck digs his phone out of his pocket, calling Renjun as he flops onto his bed.

 

“For the last time, I’m not letting you borrow my new Morphe palette--”

 

Donghyuck clicks his tongue in annoyance. “It’s not about that. I need advice.”

 

“Is this about Mark?”

 

Donghyuck twists his face. When did he get so predictable? “Maybe.” He can practically hear Renjun rolling his eyes.

 

“Okay, what is it this time?”

 

“I… wanna invite him over.”

 

There’s a pause. “What? Are you nuts?”

 

Donghyuck rolls around in his bed so he’s laying on his stomach. “Everyone left! It’s just me in the house for the next five days, at least.

 

“Oh shoot, is it the full moon already?” Donghyuck hears Renjun rustle curtains, like he's looking out the window to look at the moon, and hums in confirmation. “What makes you think he’d agree?”

 

Renjun has a point, naturally, because he always has a point. Donghyuck’s family has somewhat of a reputation in their small town. He’d heard so many stories, none of them appealing, but he reports them back to his family and they laugh at them at dinner.

 

(“They’re doing all the dirty work for us,” Joohyun had told Donghuck once, a long time ago. “It’s better if they think we’re dangerous. Fewer questions that way.”

 

“But aren’t we dangerous?”

 

Joohyun had set her favorite rifle down with a smile. “All the better, then.”)

 

“He’s a nice guy! I can at least try, right?” Donghyuck knows he’s grasping at straws, but he’s never been a coward.

 

“I just… ugh. I wanna say yes but I don’t wanna see you get disappointed with the answer.” Donghyuck presses his face into his pillow. Damn Renjun for being so honest all the damn time. “I mean, think about it. If I wasn’t me, and you asked to hang out at your house, I would say no. Purely for self-preservation purposes.”

 

“You’re the worst,” Donghyuck says, but he doesn’t really mean it. The rumors range from his family being a coven of vampires (definitely not true, vampires hate living in this region), to them being serial killers (which… okay, technically yes, but they only kill the bad people). Still, none of the rumors make Donghyuck’s home seem very appealing to a stranger, much less Mark.

 

“I have a hunch, though.”

 

“A hunch?”

 

Donghyuck bites his lip, considering how to phrase his next words. “I think… he maybe… I think he likes me back.” There’s a muffled thud, and cursing. Donghyuck snorts. “Did you just drop your phone on your face?”

 

“Shut up, I’ll kill you,” Renjun grumbles. “For real though? You think he likes you?”

 

“Why does this surprise you? I’m beautiful, inside and out.”

 

“Okay.”

 

Donghyuck clicks his tongue again and rolls onto his back. “I dunno. Just like… all the times at the library. I think he was flirting with me? Maybe.”

 

“There’s a lot of ambiguity there, Hyuck.”

 

“I’m just gonna try it, okay?”

 

“If you already made up your mind, why did you even call me?”

 

Donghyuck grins, even though Renjun can’t see it. “Well, on the off chance that Mark agrees, can I borrow your Morphe palette--”

 

Renjun hangs up.

 

 

The first time Donghyuck calls Joohyun “mom” is a complete accident. He’s twelve, and in tears, because he’s not used to the sharp burning of a rune etching itself onto his skin. He screams at Seulgi and kicks at Seungwan. Sooyoung and Yeri don’t even attempt to go near him and calm him down.

 

It’s Joohyun who is the bravest, who marches up to Donghyuck and pins his small writhing body into a hug, and whispers soothing words into his ear.

 

(“Focus on me, Donghyuck. Focus on my voice.”

 

In a blur of pain and tears, Donghyuck blurts, “Mom, it hurts.”

 

Joohyun is absolutely still for a few seconds, and no one in the room moves either. And then, Joohyun is kissing Donghyuck’s hair, rocking him back and forth. “I know it does, Duckie. I’m sorry. Just focus on me. What do I smell like?”

 

Donghyuck presses his nose into her neck. “Roses.”

 

“Do you like roses?”

 

“I love roses,” Donghyuck blubbers.

 

“Whenever you smell them, that means I’m here, okay? You’re safe. No one is going to hurt you. Not anymore.")

 

Donghyuck supposes it’s fitting. Joohyun’s been more of a mother to him than anyone else. (His birth mother had tried to drown him in holy water, so that was a bust. Donghyuck doesn’t believe that blood is thicker than water.) Joohyun packs his lunches, kisses him on the forehead when everything hurts, and delivers a hell of a lecture when it’s necessary.

 

It’s especially appropriate now, when Joohyun is nagging Donghyuck about the English essay he has due at the end of the week. He doesn’t even know how they have signal, wherever they might be, but it’s super fucking annoying that Joohyun is using that opportunity to lecture him about procrastination.

 

Donghyuck manages to shoot off a text saying something along the lines of I’m working on it (he isn’t), before the bell rings, and his first period classroom starts to fill up. He tugs his hoodie up over his head and slouches in his seat. High school and teenagers are necessary evils.

 

“Hey, I heard your pad’s empty,” is the first thing Jeno says, weaving through the maze of desks with his penny board in his hands to sit in the back with Donghyuck.

 

“You can crash if you want. Just not tomorrow.”

 

Jeno raises his eyebrow, grinning like crazy. “Why. Cuz you’re gonna invite Mark over?”

 

Donghyuck groans, tilting his head back in his chair. “Renjun ratted me out.”

 

“He did. Jaemin thinks it’s a really bad idea.”

 

Donghyuck sits up a little straighter, lips pursed together. “And what’s your hot take?”

 

Jeno shrugs, because that’s what he does as the un-opinionated middle ground of Donghyuck’s ragtag group of friends. “I don’t care. If he says sure then it’s cool. If he says no you guys can still work at the library or whatever. It’s chill.”

 

“It’s chill,” Donghyuck parrots, trying to internalize the words. He’s been nervous all morning, like he’s about to confess to Mark or something, rather than ask him to hang out at his house. (It might as well be the same thing though. If Mark says no, Donghyuck isn’t sure how he’s going to recover from this.)

 

Jeno’s already pulled up Snapchat on his phone, sending Jaemin a picture of his shoe with the caption strreeaaaaaaakkkkssss, thus ending the conversation. Before Donghyuck can call him out on it, there’s hollering from the hallway.

 

“Fuck,” Donghyuck mumbles, sinking into his seat. He’s well attuned to the sound of his school’s meathead football team, though it doesn’t make it any less grating.

 

Jeno shoots Donghyuck a sympathetic look, but it doesn’t mean much, when he’s friends with most of the guys on the team. Fucking traitor.

 

The jocks pile into the room all at once, maybe thirty seconds before the final bell is supposed to ring. They look like clones, in their white and red varsity jackets and floppy hair and Yeezys. Truly the scum of the earth.

 

Donghyuck’s about to look down when he senses a pair of eyes on him. It’s not hard to zone in on Yukhei Wong, the bane of Donghyuck’s existence. Along with being the quarterback and predictably good-looking, he’s loud and obnoxious and probably bathes in Axe more than anyone else on the godforsaken team. And right now he’s staring right at Donghyuck with a strange look in his eyes.

 

Donghyuck’s natural reaction is to narrow his eyes and shoot Yukhei the dirtiest look he can muster. If Donghyuck was to have a high school nemesis, it would be him. (The unspoken rivalry is entirely one-sided. Yukhei is too much of a dumb jock to even register Donghyuck’s open animosity, much less acknowledge he exists. Also, Yukhei is mostly harmless. Like a fly buzzing constantly in Donghyuck’s ear.)

 

Yukhei snaps his eyes away fairly quickly, caught. Donghyuck smirks, smug, because intimidating Yukhei has always been one of his life goals. The feeling fades quickly, when Mr. Kim walks into the room and levels the class with a glare.

 

“Mr. Wong, good to have you back with us,” he says, in a way that makes it clear Yukhei being back is the least good thing to happen to him in a while. Donghyuck can relate. Yukhei had been missing on Monday, and it had been the most peaceful class period of Donghyuck’s life.

 

“Glad to be back,” Yukhei says in his infuriatingly deep voice, slouching into his seat. Donghyuck rolls his eyes so hard he might get a headache. Donghyuck had considered, on multiple occasions, asking Joohyun to just… make Yukhei disappear, but then people would ask too many questions. The dumb fuck was annoyingly popular, and his absence would definitely be noted. What a shame.

 

“If you’re so glad to be back then you wouldn’t mind reading Hamlet’s second monologue to us.”

 

Yukhei, the idiot, isn’t even phased. “Sure thing, teach.”

 

Donghyuck spends the rest of the period screaming internally as Yukhei delivers the most over-passionate, loud rendition of Shakespeare ever performed.

 

 

“Hey, Mark!” Donghyuck calls out, slinging his backpack over his shoulder and getting out of his seat.

 

“What’s up?” Mark asks, waiting by the doorway of the classroom for Donghyuck to catch up. “We’re good for tomorrow right? Library?”

 

Donghyuck flashes Mark his most charming smile. “Actually, about that…”

 

Mark looks wary. “Do you have to cancel? Because it’s due the day after.”

 

“No no! It’s not that. I am. Definitely aware of the due date. Just. Uhm.” Donghyuck doesn’t remember ever being this nervous about anything. “I was thinking maybe. Like… my family is gone for the next week, and I thought maybe we could work at my house after school?”

 

Mark’s face goes pale. “Your house? Like… the house that you live in?”

 

Donghyuck side-eyes him as they walk down the hall. “That’s… generally the definition of a house, yes.”

 

“Is that a good idea?”

 

Donghyuck’s heart is beating so fast at this point that while he knows it’s physically impossible for it to burst through his chest, this might be an exception. “Yeah, it’ll be chill. No one’s home so we could work on the project, maybe like order a pizza or something. No big deal.”

 

Mark gulps. “No big deal… uh.”

 

“It’s okay if you don’t want to, seriously dude. I just thought it’d be easier if we don’t have to like, whisper every time the librarian comes by. You can say no.” Donghyuck tries to look open and understanding, which is to say, as un-Donghyuck as he can make himself to be. This is what rejection feels like.

 

“No, no! I’m not saying I don’t want to, I just.” Mark’s eyes shift from side to side, and he cracks his knuckles in the way Donghyuck knows he does when he’s nervous. He sighs deeply. “Yeah, let’s do it. It’s fine.”

 

“Really?” Donghyuck feels like he’s soaring, and Mark’s answering smile is worth all the time he spent debating this. He grabs Mark’s hand and squeezes it. “It’ll be fun, okay? I promise.”

 

The tips of Mark’s ears are red, and he nods quickly. “Sure thing. We can uh… take my car.”

 

“Awesome,” Donghyuck says sincerely, before pulling his hand away. “I’ll see you tomorrow then?” Mark nods, stopping when they get to the student parking lot.

 

“See you then.”

 

Donghyuck flashes Mark another smile before turning and heading in the direction of his house. That went so much better than he expected. He digs his phone out of his pocket as he waits for the light to change at the intersection.

 

00 line bitches

 

Duckie : uhhh dudes i did it

Duckie: mark said yes

Duckie : ya boy just got himself a pizza date

Jaem : does it count as a date if the other person doesn’t know its a date

No Fun: OOOHH SICK BURN BRO

Duckie : jaemin shut up and jeno ESPECIALLY shut up

Moomin : u got a lot of house cleaning to do lmao

Duckie: … fuck

 

Donghyuck groans, looking both ways before crossing the street. He’s gonna have to do a full sweep of the house to that Mark doesn’t accidentally stumble upon jars of preserved animal parts or their extensive pistol collection or something else equally hard to explain.

 

He has a plan (sort of). He’s going to explain who (what) he is to Mark eventually, because healthy romantic relationships are founded on honesty and full disclosure. Donghyuck’s going to make a whole speech about how there are supernatural beings living alongside humans in this world, and that he and his family are right in the middle of it all, and so weird things are going to happen from time to time.

 

Donghyuck just has to get Mark to fall in love with him first.

 

The moment he has that thought, a searing pain shoots up his arm. Donghyuck curses, pulling the sleeve of his hoodie up. Right there, on the inside of his wrist, is the mark that’s been bothering him for the last couple of days, finally stamped onto his skin. It’s unlike any other rune he’s ever gotten. Most of the marks are black and brown, etched onto his skin. They appear and disappear unpredictably, which is why Donghyuck’s closet consists mostly of sweaters and hoodies.

 

But this mark is different. The skin is raised up, like a welt, and glistens like it's been branded onto him with silver.

 

He traces it with his fingers, and it’s cooler than the skin around it. “Shit,” he grumbles. Of course, something like this would happen while everyone was gone. Donghyuck’s seen so much in his measly seventeen years of life, so nothing really phases him, not even what looks like a permanent rune-thing on his wrist for the whole world to see, but he wishes he knew what the fuck it was and what to do about it.

 

Before he knows it, Donghyuck is home. The house looks almost naked without Joohyun’s Jeep parked out front. The plants look in dire need of watering, and Donghyuck really has to fix that stair step.

 

And when he actually enters the house, it hits him fully that he’s going to have to turn the house upside down to make it Mark-proof.

 

“The things we do for love,” Donghyuck grumbles, letting his bag hit the floor, and braces himself for the cleaning to come.

 

 

“Have you ever seen something like this before?” Donghyuck asks, waiting for Renjun to change into his PE uniform.

 

“I don’t know why you think I’d know.” Renjun pulls his shirt down over his head and fixes his hair, before walking out of the lockers. Donghyuck trails after him helplessly.

 

“But you’re good at this stuff. You’re supposed to know everything.”

 

“I’m flattered,” Renjun says flatly as they step into the basketball gymnasium. Donghyuck immediately wrinkles his nose, sensitive to the smell of old sweat and rubber that clings to the air. “Does it hurt?”

 

Instinctively, Donghyuck presses his fingers onto the sleeve of his hoodie, over the mark. “Not really. It tingles sometimes but it doesn’t bother me.”

 

Renjun hums thoughtfully as they aggregate by the bleachers with the rest of their fourth period PE class. Jaemin is in basketball and Jeno is in cross country, so they’re exempt from having to take PE as an actual class. Traitors.

 

Donghyuck spots Coach Nakamoto in a corner, and huffs in annoyance when he sees very familiar figures in very familiar outfits. “Jun, do you think jocks ever wash their varsity jackets?” Renjun raises an eyebrow. “Do you think they sleep in those jackets?” Renjun stays silent, not wanting to feed the flames of Donghyuck’s ire.

 

Coach Nakamoto finishes what looks like a very serious meeting with the football players. Donghyuck recognizes one of them as Yukhei, who happens to glance in their direction for a brief second, then away, before Donghyuck can do anything about it.

 

And then, Coach Nakamoto blows the whistle so hard Donghyuck winces. “Oi Lee! Wanna tell me why you decided to make a fashion statement today?”

 

Donghyuck rolls his eyes, sighing. Meathead jocks have meathead coaches, after all. “I dunno, Coach. Just not feeling the whole athleisure aesthetic today.” He’s drawing attention to himself, if the glares of the football players glaring at him are any indication.

 

“Not feeling the aesthetic, huh?” Coach Nakamoto puts his hands on his hips, trying to look as intimidating as possible, though Donghyuck can think of at least twenty five ways to kill him with his Nike sliders.

 

“Nope. You know, I’ve never really liked the idea of mandatory uniforms? They’re so… classist. And oppressive to our freedom of expression. Especially since these are our most formative years.”

 

Coach Nakamoto fixes him with an unimpressed glare. “Take off the hoodie, Lee.”

 

Donghyuck sighs. He has no intention of taking off the jacket and potentially exposing runes along his arms. They’ve been appearing and disappearing on his body all day, and he can’t risk the exposure. “But I lose body heat really quickly Coach. What if I get hypothermia? My mom would be…” Donghyuck clicks his tongue. “Very upset.”

 

Coach Nakamoto rolls his eyes so hard it looks painful. “Honestly why do I even bother.”

 

“That’s a really good question, Coach,” Donghyuck says with fake sincerity. Renjun elbows him in the side. Coach Nakamoto just shakes his head.

 

“Let’s see how cold you are after doing two laps around the building.” Donghyuck groans. He knew he wouldn’t get out of this unscathed, but it's better than exposing his runes. 

 

“This is cruel and unusual punishment, Coach,” he says.

 

“No, cruel and unusual punishment is having you in my class. Start running, Lee.”

 

 

Donghyuck stares at the mark on his wrist. It’s pulsating, warm and steady, and it’s starting to freak him out. Just a little. The mark’s taken on the distinct crescent moon, and it seems so obviously symbolic of something, but Donghyuck doesn’t even know where to start. All the runes he’d ever gotten on his body were in an ancient language, documented by the books Sooyoung likes to force Donghyuck to read.

 

At this point, it’s pretty clear it’s not a rune, but then whatever the hell else it could be, Donghyuck doesn’t know. He’d try to look something up in the library at home, but with Mark coming over today (a whole other can of worms), he won’t have time.

 

And now that he’s thinking about Mark, the butterflies in his stomach are back. It’s almost the end of lunch, and in a couple hours, they’ll be in Mark’s old Honda Civic, heading to Donghyuck’s house.

 

Donghyuck takes a deep breath, centering himself. He takes a look in the restroom mirror, double checking no rogue runes have shown up on his neck. He pulls the hood over his hair, just in case. Tugging the sleeves of his jacket down, he slips out of the restroom and walks into the stairwell to head down to the first floor.

 

“Hey Lee.”

 

Donghyuck stops and turns, huffing out a laugh when he sees several members of the football team approaching. He can only recognize one of them by first name. “Can I help you?”

 

“Me and my buddies here don’t like how you were talking to Coach earlier today.” Donghyuck bites his lip to keep from grinning as they start cornering him in the stairwell. Could this get any more cliche and stupid? “You need to apologize to him.”

 

“Apologize to him? He wears Adidas tracksuits with Nike sliders. If anyone needs to apologize, it’s him--” Donghyuck suppresses a grunt when one of the jocks shoves him against the wall. He slouches, shooting him a deadpan look.

 

“You’ve got some fucking balls, don’t you?” The ringleader of this little showcase is Kyle, from Donghyuck’s fourth period Econ class. Kyle tugs Donghyuck’s backpack off of him, leering. “I know what your family does. One day the fucking police are gonna come and arrest them and then no one’s gonna be around to protect you.”

 

“I really think you should try using your remaining two brain cells for something more productive.”

 

Kyle doesn’t hear him, busy unzipping Donghyuck’s backpack. “Got a dead body in here, Lee? Let’s find out.”

 

Donghyuck bites back the flare of annoyance as Kyle upends the entire contents of his backpack onto the floor-- it’s all just notebooks, his pencil case, a chapstick, and his power bank. Donghyuck flashes his canines. “No dead body. Sorry to disappoint. I’m happy to take a volunteer, though.”

 

Kyle backs him up against the wall, the front of Donghyuck’s hoodie wrinkled in his fist. “Watch your mouth, Lee. I’ll fucking end your psychopath family, and I’ll start with you.” Kyle brings his fist back, and Donghyuck briefly considers getting out the small hunting knife holstered to his waist, but he doesn’t get a chance.

 

“What the hell is going on here?”

 

For fuck’s sake, Donghyuck thinks, eyes snapping to Yukhei’s form. He’s about to consider how best to take out Yukhei, but then he registers pure, unbridled fury in Yukhei’s expression, not directed at him. It’s a strange sight, considering the only ways Donghyuck has seen Yukhei is smirking or staring vacantly into space.

 

“Sorry, Wong, you’re gonna have to wait your turn,” Kyle says smugly, but his expression darkens when Yukhei wrestles his way between him and Donghyuck, shoving Kyle back.

 

“You’re gonna wanna walk the fuck away, Choi,” Yukhei says, and there’s something in his voice that makes Donghyuck’s skin tighten with goosebumps. “All of you. Walk away now, or Coach’ll hear about it.”

 

“Didn’t think you were a fucking snitch, Wong,” Kyle says, trying to sound casual, but it’s ruined by the way his face visibly pales.

 

“I’ll do more than just snitch.” And then he mutters something to Kyle that Donghyuck doesn’t catch. Kyle’s knees wobble, and he stumbles back, out of Yukhei’s grasp. He looks at Donghyuck with a look of pure disbelief in his eyes, and the other guys with him look unsure.

 

“S-sorry,” Kyle says, to Donghyuck, who raises his eyebrows in surprise. And before Donghyuck can blink, they’re all scrambling out of the stairwell like they’d just seen the wrath of god. Well, that was weird, Donghyuck thinks, straightening up and adjusting his hood.

 

“Fucking hell,” he mumbles, crouching down to pick up the papers discarded on the floor.

 

“I’m really sorry about that,” Yukhei says. Donghyuck looks up in surprise (yet again) to see Yukhei on his knees, grabbing his pencil case and power bank. He hands them hesitantly back to Donghyuck, who snatches them out of his grip, careful not to touch Yukhei's skin. “It won’t happen again, don’t worry.”

 

Donghyuck scoffs, shoving his things haphazardly into his backpack. “If they come near me again, I’m not the one who should be worrying.” Yukhei shoots him a startled look. From this proximity, Donghyuck can (sort of maybe vaguely) see why Yukhei’s got half the school swooning over him. Also, he smells nice. In an expensive department store kind of way. It’s discomfiting.

 

“You know, this is the part where most people say, like, thanks or something,” Yukhei says hesitantly, smiling.

 

“Thanks for what?” Donghyuck asks, straightening up and slinging his bag over his shoulder. “All you did was save your meathead buddies from getting their faces bashed in. Ask them for a thank you.”

 

Now Yukhei looks extremely unsure as he stands to his full height. Honestly, fuck him for being this tall on top of everything. “I’m… sorry?”

 

Donghyuck rolls his eyes. He doesn’t really feel like going into the semantics of the training Joohyun’s been putting him through since he was a kid, especially not to Yukhei Wong. “Whatever. Just get out of my way.”

 

He brushes past Yukhei and takes the stairs two at a time, just wanting to get away from him and the whole situation. The mark on Donghyuck’s wrist burns.

 

 

“Hey, Donghyuck.”

 

Donghyuck looks up from tossing the disposable plates into the trash to see Mark standing by the kitchen island. “What’s up?”

 

“I uh… actually had a lot of fun today.”

 

Donghyuck shoots him a playful smirk. “Actually?”

 

Mark blushes, fidgeting in his place in a very endearing way. Once they’d gotten to Donghyuck’s house, they’d decided to finish the history project and submit it as the first order of business. Then they’d ordered pizza as promised and watched movies. (Donghyuck had rested his head on Mark’s shoulder twice. It was magical.)

 

“You know what I mean. There are like, rumors and stuff. About the house… and stuff.”

 

Eloquent, as always.

 

“You shouldn’t read a book by its cover, Mark Lee,” Donghyuck says, walking slowly towards him. He wants to laugh at the irony of it, because in this case, what’s on the cover is a pretty good gauge of the book inside, if he’s going to run with the metaphor. But he needs to ease Mark into this slowly.

 

Mark smiles at him, and it grows slowly, as Donghyuck approaches. “I’m never making that mistake again.”

 

Donghyuck’s got those butterflies in his stomach again, and it really feels like a Moment. He’s never had a Moment with a boy before, but this feels like one. It’s the grand irony that he, of all people, is crushing on Mark Lee, the clean-cut, wholesome student body president, but the world is full of contradictions that way.

 

He opens his mouth to say something (something smooth, definitely) when he hears a car pull up into the driveway. His body goes tense, feeling the runes on his skin thrum with energy.

 

“What’s going on?” Mark asks, eyes wide. “I thought your family was gone for the week?”

 

Donghyuck is in deep shit, but there are suddenly more pressing matters at hand. “That was the plan.” He walks past Mark down the hall and to the front door. He opens the curtains slightly, to see the headlights of Joohyun’s Jeep shining at him.

 

“Something’s wrong,” Donghyuck says, mostly to himself. There’s a familiar twist of anxiety in his gut as he undoes all the bolts on the door and wrenches it open.

 

“Big fucking problem,” Seungwan says, getting out of the car and rushing in past Donghyuck. She has blood on her clothes and hands and a little bit in her hair too. Donghyuck looks past her to see Sooyoung and Joohyun supporting a man on both sides, practically dragging him up the steps.

 

“Donghyuck, what the hell is going on?” Mark asks, suddenly at his side.

 

“I--” Donghyuck doesn’t get a chance to respond, because suddenly everyone is at the front door. Now that Donghyuck can see the man properly in the light, it’s obvious he’s a vampire. He’s got flame red hair, his fangs out, and eyes that are flickering between the same violent shade of blood red and a foreboding pale blue.

 

“Hunters. Three silver bullets, right in the stomach,” Joohyun barks at Donghyuck, before her eyes land on Mark, standing helplessly in the hallway, turning pale. “Who the hell are you?”

 

Donghyuck jumps in before Mark can respond. “He’s a friend. We were working on a school project. What’s going on?”

 

“Hunters, kid,” Sooyoung says, helping Joohyun drag the vampire further into the house. They’ll probably lay him out on the couch. He can hear the rustling of plastic sheets being placed over the upholstery.

 

“You should tell your friend to go home,” Joohyun calls out.

 

Donghyuck nods, turning. “Mark, this is a really bad--” He stops when he realizes Mark isn’t beside him anymore. His backpack is also gone from where they’d discarded them at the base of the stairs.

 

“Saw him pull out of the driveway like a second ago. Seemed like he was in a hurry,” Seulgi explains, dragging large trunks up to the front patio with Yeri. Donghyuck feels like he’s had the wind knocked out of him.

 

It must show on his face too, because Yeri’s face turns warm and sympathetic. “Sorry, Duckie.”

 

“Donghyuck!” Sooyoung calls.

 

“Compartmentalize. Deal with this later,” Seulgi advises, and Donghyuck nods, taking a deep breath. He has more pressing concerns right now.

 

Donghyuck runs through the halls into the living room. The man’s been laid out on the couch as predicted, and there’s a massive blood stain right by his abdomen. He crouches down next to the man.

 

“Hey dude, you don’t look so good,” he says quietly, trying to assess the damage.

 

“That happens when you get shot,” he rasps. “Are you the-- the Healer?”

 

Donghyuck blinks in surprise. It’s been years and he still can’t get over the fact that the supernatural community calls him that. (It's kind of pretentious and stupid.) “Uh. I’m Donghyuck, yeah. What’s your name?”

 

Despite the obvious pain, the man manages to smile. “Taeyong.”

 

“Okay, Mister Taeyong. We’re gonna get you back on your feet, alright?” Taeyong shuts his eyes and nods.

 

Seungwan comes up next to Donghyuck with gauze. “We didn’t want to remove the bullets in case they were pressing down on an artery or something.” Donghyuck nods, taking the gauze from her. In the edge of his senses, he registers Joohyun and Sooyoung bustling around, getting tinctures and balms from the cabinets from storage. Seulgi is lifting Taeyong’s head and placing a pillow under his head. Yeri is still carting their stuff from the car back inside.

Everything fades into white noise as he focuses, putting himself in a good mental place. Slowly, he peels the shirt, tacky with blood, up, revealing the wound. Amidst the blood, there’s an ugly blackness around the wound, turning it necrotic. Damn silver bullets.

 

Donghyuck takes a deep breath, feeling the runes on his skin coming alight and pulsate. He places his hands over the wound and focuses. It’s quiet as the bullets unlodge themselves from the tissue and begin levitating in the air. Seungwan grabs them quickly with gloved hands to get them out of the way.

 

Quickly, Donghyuck allows his magic to penetrate into the wound, assessing the damage. It’s going to take a while, he knows, but he can heal this wound.

 

So Donghyuck stays kneeled over Taeyong for the next hour, chanting, letting his power absorb into his body and allow his body to slowly heal itself. Halfway through, Taeyong blacks out from the pain, and Donghyuck’s getting a sharp pain at his temples, but he pushes forward.

 

It’s only when the surface of Taeyong’s wound closes over that Donghyuck stops. He falls back against his calves, sweating and panting like he’s just run a marathon, but shivering like he’d been stuck out in the snow.

 

“There we go, Duckie,” Joohyun says softly, helping Donghyuck shakily to his feet and draping a blanket around him. She guides him to one of the other couches, set up in a massive U shape in their living room. “You did good.”

 

“Drink this, and go right to bed,” Sooyoung says, handing Donghyuck a ceramic mug of tea. He sniffs it and recoils in disdain. It’s one of her special herbal brews, and tastes like death, but he knows it’ll help. Healing always drains him, and the next day it feels like he’s come down with a bad flu.

 

“Tomorrow, we’re gonna talk about that kid you had over and why you didn’t tell us,” Joohyun says sternly, rubbing Donghyuck’s shoulders. “You know we don’t like strangers in here.”

 

That brings reality crashing back over Donghyuck’s head. He slouches in his seat, suddenly wanting to disappear. “I’m sorry.”

 

“Hey!” Yeri yells, her voice carrying through the halls. “Why’s Seulgi’s battle axe in the broom closet?”

 

Donghyuck grins sheepishly, and that's the last thing he remembers before blacking out.

 

 

Jaemin’s dagger hits just off center with a resounding thwack. “I told you it was a bad idea.”

 

Donghyuck wrenches the dagger free from the target and hands it back to Jaemin. “I know.”

 

“Technically I said it and Jaemin agreed,” Renjun says, not looking up from Jeno’s geometry homework as he sits on the grass. Jaemin aims again, and it’s a bullseye.

 

“I know.” This time it takes a while to tug the blade out of the wood. Donghyuck still feels a little weak from last night, and Joohyun had been merciful enough to let him stay home from school. “And fucking Jeno --”

 

“Hey don’t pin this on me!” Jeno protests, sitting under the patio awning. Seulgi had bribed him into sharpening one of her longswords with a promise of Joohyun’s vegan gluten-free brownies. Yet another reason why Jeno’s existence makes absolutely no sense. “I was the neutral party.”

 

“You told me to just do whatever!” Donghyuck accuses.

 

“Yeah because either way, it doesn’t matter dude.”

 

“It does matter,” Donghyuck scowls. “I didn’t think it’d hurt this much.”

 

“You really like him, don’t you?” Renjun asks in that quiet, all-knowing way of his.

 

“Yeah, but that’s a bust.” Donghyuck shrugs, but his stomach is knots. He’d been… so close. To having something with Mark. But Joohyun had chewed him out thoroughly when he woke up sometime around midday and reminded him, in no uncertain terms, why bringing humans into this world is a very very bad idea.

 

“I saw him at school today,” Jeno says, putting oil on his whetstone. “He looked spooked, dude.”

 

“Jeno, shut up,” Jaemin says.

 

“No, for real, he like. Looked at me and did a fucking u-turn. I thought he was gonna pee himself!”

 

“Jeno, shut up,” Renjun says, throwing his pen across the grass. It hits Jeno in the face with surprising accuracy. Out of the four of them, Renjun has the least interest in weaponry and combat, but has the best aim.

 

“What do I do?” Donghyuck whines, dropping onto the grass next to the target. Jaemin throws the dagger one last time, and walks over to take it out, before sitting on the grass next to Donghyuck.

 

“Can’t you wipe his memory or something?”

 

Jeno sets the sword aside with great care before joining his friends in the grass. “Hyuck can do that?”

 

Out of the four of them, Jeno is the only human-human. Jaemin’s family is much like Donghyuck’s-- part of a small Warrior clan. Renjun’s family owns an apothecary where Sooyoung works, showing some inclination to becoming a Green witch like his mother. Jeno had always just been a part of their group of friends and took everything in stride.

 

Donghyuck shrugs. “It’s like super limited. I can’t like wipe a person’s memory forever or anything like that.”

 

Renjun hums in thought. “Can you wipe stuff from like, a couple days before?”

 

Donghyuck considers. He hadn’t used his memory manipulating rune in a while, but Joohyun had been training him to have better control of his magic regardless of how little practice he had with certain spells. “Theoretically, yeah.” He sighs, leaning back on his hands. Overhead, the sun is still shining in all its mid-afternoon glory. It’s January, but in this region of the state, this is the norm.

 

“But should I? Isn’t there like that big morally grey thing to do?”

 

Jaemin shrugs. “Well yeah, but like. He looked really freaked out. And if he blabbed to someone? Bad news dude.”

 

Renjun reaches out to pat Donghyuck’s thigh. “There’s no scenario that plays out where you and Mark get together in the end, Hyuck. You know that.”

 

“You’d be doing Mark a favor,” Jeno agrees.

 

Donghyuck sighs, his headache coming back in full force.

 

Jaemin pats his back consolingly. “You know what you need to do, dude.”

 

 

“Hey Mark, Mr. Park wanted to see us after class,” Donghyuck says, out of breath from trying to catch up to Mark, who had started speed-walking as soon he spotted Donghyuck.

 

“W-why? Is something wrong with our project?” Mark’s face is pale, and his hands are shaking.

 

Donghyuck shrugs. “He didn’t say. But we should probably see what’s up.”

 

“Uh…” Mark’s fearful expression makes Donghyuck’s heart twist. He knew it was a stupid idea to even attempt to pursue a relationship with a human, but Mark is cute and nice. But also woefully unprepared for the reality of the world.

 

“I need to get home soon, so we need to hurry,” Donghyuck urges, lying through his teeth. Mark nods, and so they walk down the hall in tense silence. When they get to the room, Donghyuck opens the door for Mark before following him inside. 

 

“Where’s Mr. Park?”

 

Donghyuck shuts the door securely. “He’s not here, Mark.”

 

Mark stumbles back, the backs of his legs hitting a desk. “W-what are you doing, Donghyuck?”

 

“I never should have invited you over. I’m sorry, it was a mistake.” For every step Donghyuck takes forward, Mark scrambles backward, until his back hits the whiteboard.

 

“Are you gonna kill me?” Mark asks, voice meek. “You’ll never get away with this. You’re gonna get arrested.”

 

Donghyuck clicks his tongue. “Oh honey, if I wanted to kill you, you wouldn’t have even woken up this morning,” he says, because he can’t help himself. It’s not like Mark will remember this in a minute anyway.

 

“Oh my god, they were right. You’re a psychopath,” Mark mumbles. Donghyuck winces, trying not to be hurt by the words. He’s probably the furthest thing from a psychopath, given his hyperactive empathy, but… semantics.

 

“Mark, look me in the eyes,” Donghyuck says calmly, stepping forward until they’re chest to chest. He can feel the memory manipulation rune warming on the side of his left calf. “Listen to me very carefully. We had a lot of fun at my house, okay? And you had to leave right after we submitted the project.”

 

Mark nods robotically, unblinking as he keeps his eyes on Donghyuck. “That’s the reality. Nothing else happened at my house. Do you understand?”

 

“I understand,” Mark says.

 

Donghyuck exhales sharply, stepping back. “Good. Now snap out of it.”

 

Mark blinks several times, before shaking his head. “Oh, Donghyuck, hey. What are you doing here?”

 

Donghyuck shrugs. “I dunno. You said Mr. Park wanted to talk to us but he’s not here.”

 

“Did I?” Donghyuck nods. “Sorry dude. I must have gotten confused.” Mark presses the palm of his hand to his forehead. “I’ve had this ugly headache for the last couple days.”

 

Donghyuck pats his back. “You should probably take some Advil or something. I’m sure it’ll pass.”

 

“Hope so,” Mark agrees, before his eyes catch on something behind Donghyuck. “Oh, Yukhei!”

 

It’s his sheer force of will that prevents Donghyuck from screaming in frustration. He turns on his heels to see Yukhei standing there, and the look on his face tells Donghyuck he’d seen basically everything.

 

“Just needed to drop off something with Mr. Park,” Yukhei says smoothly, eyes still trained on Donghyuck.

 

“He’s not here, man.” Mark shrugs. He then turns to Donghyuck. “I just remembered I have an ASB meeting in like ten minutes. I’ll catch you later, okay?”

 

Donghyuck forces himself to smile. “For sure,” he says, though he knows it’s a lie. The odds of him and Mark ever interacting again are extremely slim. Mark smiles at him, before making his way out of the classroom, patting Yukhei’s back as he goes.

 

The moment the door closes, Donghyuck’s glare turns icy. “How much did you see?” he asks, stepping towards Yukhei. The whole eye contact might be more difficult with this one-- Donghyuck and Mark were the same height, but Yukhei is at least a solid head taller than Donghyuck. Maybe if he forces Yukhei’s chin down--

 

“If you’re gonna try your memory trick on me, I’m telling you right now that it won’t work.” Yukhei looks way too calm for someone who’d just witnessed someone getting their memory wiped, but that doesn’t register in Donghyuck’s fury-addled brain.

 

“Look into my eyes,” Donghyuck says, when he’s close enough. He wants desperately to wipe that smug look off Yukhei’s face. Yukhei raises his eyebrows and looks expectantly down at Donghyuck.

 

“You came in here to turn something in for Mr. Park. The classroom is empty, so you’re going to leave now and forget what you saw in here.”

 

Donghyuck steps back and waits. Yukhei rocks back on his heels, hands stuffed into his pockets. “Are you done?” Donghyuck blinks in surprise. Yukhei tilts his head. “That was kinda anticlimactic.”

 

“That should have worked,” Donghyuck mumbles, taking a stunned step back.

 

“I told you it wouldn’t, bro.”

 

Why didn’t it work?” Donghyuck asks. “Who the hell are you?”

 

Yukhei’s grin is all pearly-white teeth. “Uh, you haven’t unlocked that level yet.”

 

“That’s fucking hilarious. Let’s see how funny it is when I bust your kneecap, you fucking creep--

 

“That’s a little harsh, don’t you think? I haven’t even done anything to you.”

 

Donghyuck lets out a small, hysterical laugh. “That’s where you’re wrong buddy. Your entire... existence. Pisses me off. Just by being you.”

 

Yukhei pouts. “Wow, that’s mean. And here I was, just trying to give your notebook back like a decent person.” He slides his backpack off his shoulder and unzips it, before taking out Donghyuck’s calculus notebook. “I found it after you left.”

 

There’s a distressing feeling of regret and guilt taking over him, but it’s overpowered by the sheer mistrust. Donghyuck looks at the spiral notebook like it’s in flames, but reaches out hesitantly and takes it.

 

“Who the hell are you,” he murmurs.

 

Yukhei just shoots him a disarming smile. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out eventually. I’m surprised you don’t already know.”