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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.”

 

Chapter Text

“So,” Joohyun starts, and Donghyuck looks up from his math homework in fear.

 

She’s hovering over a pot of chili at the stove. Donghyuck had barely restrained her from using a soy alternative to beef, and the relieved look Yeri had shot him had made the ten minute argument at the grocery store worth it.

 

“A little birdy told me that a very nice boy returned your notebook to you and you didn’t say thank you.” Donghyuck narrows his eyes. To this day, Donghyuck still doesn’t know how Joohyun has a sense for these kind of things. It’s one of the many frightening things of which Joohyun is capable.

 

“He took me by surprise,” Donghyuck says. He can’t be held responsible for making a run for it as soon as he got his notebook from Yukhei. Donghyuck doesn’t like to be cornered, especially by his sometimes-arch nemesis who is suddenly. Probably not human either?

 

“I taught you better manners than that.” The fact that she’s focusing on that aspect of the whole event, rather than the fact that Donghyuck wiped a guy’s memory is a testament to how much Joohyun trusts him not to misuse his powers. He has better things to do, anyway. Like avoid Yukhei Wong at all costs.

 

“You don’t know this guy, mom! He’s like, a horrible human being.”

 

Joohyun sets her ladle down on the counter and turns to face Donghyuck. Immediately, he stops slouching in his chair. “A horrible human being who tried to return your stuff to you.”

 

“Yes!” Donghyuck splutters. “He’s like! Everything that we detest! He’s all popular and he’s the captain of the football team, mom. If that doesn’t reek of shady--”

 

Donghyuck doesn’t get to finish his tirade, because there’s scuffling in the hall, and slowly, Taeyong steps into the kitchen, gripping onto the frame of the doorway. “Oh, you’re up!” Donghyuck says, getting out of his seat to help Taeyong to one of the stools by the kitchen island. “How are you feeling?” he asks, when Taeyong is settled in his chair.

 

“Like I got shot three times,” Taeyong grits. His face is still pale, but at least he doesn’t look seconds from death anymore. He’d been unconscious for the last couple days, set up in one of the guest rooms to recover.

 

“That’ll happen,” Donghyuck concedes, sitting down across from Taeyong and picking up his pencil. (He probably isn’t going to get to finish his homework here, but he can at least pretend to be productive.)

 

“What did you do to me, anyway?” Taeyong asks. He mumbles a thanks to Joohyun, who sets down a steaming mug of tea in front of him.

 

“Basically I just. Took out the bullets and sucked the poison out?” Donghyuck shrugs.

 

“It’s all out?” Donghyuck nods, crunching on a kale chip. It’s the only thing Joohyun will let him snack on this close to dinner, so he makes do. Taeyong grimaces. “Then why do I still feel like I have the bullets inside me?”

 

“Your body and your brain still thinks you’re injured,” Donghyuck says, swinging his legs on his chair. His feet make dull thumping noises against the lower cabinets of the island, and he stops only when Joohyun shoots him a look. “The wound is healed but your body’s still in shock.”

 

Taeyong grimaces. “How long is it gonna be like this?”

 

Donghyuck flashes him a grin. “To be determined.” He looks back down at his calculus assignment, the integrals swimming in his head. He’s always had horrible focus for these things. If Seungwan was here, he’d bully her into helping with his homework, but she’s singing tonight at the jazz club downtown.

 

He tries to ignore the fact that Taeyong is staring at him intently.

 

“When I imagined the Healer, I didn’t it would be someone who looked like you,” Taeyong says quietly. Donghyuck looks up at him, head quirked.

 

“What? Cute? Adorable? Charismatic?”

 

That teases a small smile out of the vampire. “Young.” Donghyuck makes an aah sound, nodding. This is not the first time he’s been told this. “I always imagined the Healer would be like some old man.”

 

Donghyuck hums. “I mean, the old one was. Old, I mean. He had a cane, and he used to whack me with it if I was acting out,” he explains, smiling fondly at the memory of Sooman. He’d been like the grandparent Donghyuck always wanted. “He taught me everything he knows.”

 

Taeyong nods thoughtfully. “He did a good job, clearly.”

 

Donghyuck beams.

 

 

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Renjun asks as they maneuver their way up the stands, past throngs of zealous fans.

 

“It’s a genius idea,” Donghyuck says, side-stepping until they’re in a corner at the very top of the stands, overlooking the football stadium. He’s never been to a game before, because it is, in principle, the cesspool of everything Donghyuck hates about high school. The cheerleaders, the bandwagon mentality of supporting a bunch of idiot teenagers fighting each other for a leather ball.

 

They settle down in their seats, and Renjun looks like a snowman, bundled up to the fullest in a scarf and puffy jacket. It’s always a lot colder at night these days, and Renjun looks like he’s in pain every time the wind blow in their direction, but he’ll just have to deal with it. They’re on a mission.

 

“If Dickwad Wong is gonna be all secretive, then we gotta do some research,” Donghyuck says, bringing his binoculars up to his eyes to scan the field.

 

“Where the hell did you get binoculars from?”

 

Donghyuck grins at him. “This old spy kit Seulgi got me a couple years ago. It was collecting dust under my bed but now it serves a higher purpose!” Renjun blinks at him, before sighing in exasperation.

 

“You know you can like. See the field perfectly from here, right?”

 

Donghyuck clicks his tongue, annoyed. “Not everything. I’m on a mission. Let me be dramatic.”

 

“What exactly are you looking for? Can I go get hot chocolate please?”

 

“Anything out of the ordinary,” Donghyuck murmurs, not lowering his binoculars. The team is doing warm-ups on the field, and it’s a sea of red and white jerseys against the black and yellow of the rival team. “Later. We get hot chocolate later.”

 

Renjun groans. “I h-hate you,” he says, his body wracking with shivers.

 

Donghyuck flashes his canines. “Get one of your boyfriends to cuddle you,” he suggests, and watches Renjun’s face flame. The fact that Renjun doesn’t even protest is the cherry on top of this very interesting polyamorous sundae.

 

Suddenly, the stadium erupts with cheers, and Donghyuck jolts. He has no idea what’s going on here, he knows nothing about football. He’s here to do recon anyway. “This would be so much easier if they actually put their names on their jerseys,” he complains, realizing everyone only has a number printed on the back.

 

“Jeno says it’s because they want people focusing on the game and the team instead of individual people,” Renjun says sagely, texting on his phone.

 

Donghyuck leers. “Well, isn’t that convenient.” He brings the binoculars back up. All he has to do is look for the tallest, most obnoxious looking figure in their school’s colors, and it’ll probably be Yukhei. It’s hard to focus on any one person when they’re all running around like this. Maybe this was a horrible idea. He’s already bemoaning the seven dollars he’d paid to even get into this damn game.

 

“Jaemin says Yukhei’s number is eleven, by the way.”

 

Donghyuck lowers his binoculars, putting his hand over his heart. “I knew you were useful, Jun.” Renjun just rolls his eyes again, looking down at his phone.

 

Even without Jaemin’s help, Donghyuck would have had no trouble spotting Yukhei throughout the game, not when the announcers spend most of their time talking about him (idiots, really). Also he’s constantly on the field, even as other players rotate out. Donghyuck begrudgingly has to admire the fact that Yukhei doesn’t seem to tire at all.

 

“I thought football would be more intense than this,” Renjun says, bored, chin in his palm.

 

“Honestly, same,” Donghyuck says, staring at the scoreboard. The other team is winning by a small margin, and while it’s the fourth quarter, it feels like hours and hours have passed. “They play for like. Ten seconds and then they stop? What the fuck.”

 

“I’m gonna go get that hot chocolate now,” Renjun mumbles, getting up from his seat.

 

“Get me a cup ramen,” Donghyuck pleads, tugging at Renjun’s sleeve.

 

He raises an eyebrow. “And face Joohyun? No thanks. She’s got like a sixth sense for MSG.”

 

Donghyuck clicks his tongue in annoyance, letting Renjun go. Idly, he checks his phone for any messages, and responds back to Joohyun, who wants to know what time to pick them up from the stadium. Donghyuck doesn’t know-- there’s two minutes left according to the timer on the scoreboard but that could take another hour to finish up.

 

“Who the hell is this guy?” Donghyuck mumbles. This is the last place he wants to be on a Friday night, and he feels no closer to figuring out anything about Yukhei Wong besides the fact that he is apparently really good at football. He opens his notes app.

 

who THE FUCK is yukhei wong?

 

-resistant to human memory charms = supernatural

-football --> increased stamina/agility??? the dude does not get tired??

-loud + obnoxious --> banshee??

-his hair is too nice --> good genetics???? or WITCHCRAFT????

-tall + nice teeth = deal with the devil

-nice butt

 

Donghyuck quickly deletes the last point.

 

So engrossed in his notes, he jolts when the crowd starts screaming. He looks up, and there are only five seconds left on the clock. His school’s team is running some sort of play, and Donghyuck watches as one of the players throws the ball from halfway across the field, and Yukhei jumps high into the air to catch it.

 

Donghyuck’s mouth is open as Yukhei makes a run for it, at a speed that is not natural for most humans, weaving between several players from the other team. The buzzer goes off right as he crosses the boundary line for a touchdown, and everyone on Donghyuck’s side of the stadium is on their feet, screaming.

 

He lets out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. He slowly gets to his feet because sitting down makes him stand out, and claps idly. That was definitely a cliche moment. Donghyuck supposes this is the part where he admits he’s impressed and suddenly forms an affinity for football and their star player.

 

He’s still rather be watching Master Chef on Netflix right now or even studying up on spells.

 

In an increasingly stereotypical fashion, Yukhei tears off his helmet, thumping his chest in victory. His hair is plastered to his forehead with sweat, but he still looks like some Abercrombie model, which is extremely unfair. His teammates descend on him like vultures, hooting as they carry him above their heads. Donghyuck rolls his eyes, the crowd is eating this shit up. He supposes this is the perfect time to leave, before everyone starts making their way to the exits.

 

He’s about to text Renjun to meet him in the parking lot, when his eyes lock with Yukhei’s.

 

The eye contact is brief, but it makes Donghyuck’s body flush with dread and adrenaline. The mark on his wrist goes warm, and he looks down at it, shocked.

 

When he looks up again, the moment is broken, and Yukhei isn’t even facing his direction anymore. The mark goes cold, and so does Donghyuck’s body. He’s not enough of an idiot to not realize the mark and Yukhei are connected. But what does that mean for him?

 

“Hey, Hyuck.” Donghyuck yelps when Renjun appears beside him, light-footed. “You okay?” Renjun looks concerned. Donghyuck’s mouth is dry, and he glances around, to realize the field is being cleared, and the stadium is mostly empty. “I tried texting you to meet me out front but you weren’t replying so I came up. Hyuck.”

 

Renjun touches Donghyuck’s arm gently. Donghyuck blinks rapidly. “Sorry. I totally zoned out.”

 

“Are you okay?”

 

Donghyuck looks at Renjun, frowning. “I’m not. Exactly sure?”

 

 

There’s an abandoned park about three blocks from Donghyuck’s house that he likes to go to when he needs time to think. The Yukhei situation leaves his thoughts totally fragmented, and he needs the fresh air and a place to channel his frustration.

 

Seulgi shoots him a concerned look when Donghyuck bursts into the house ahead of Joohyun and goes straight to the armory, picking up his bow and a quiver of arrows and leaves without a word. When Donghyuck is stressed, he needs to shoot.

 

There’s a tree in the far corner of the park that is Donghyuck’s favorite, if the hundreds of notches in the trunk are any indication. He stands about a hundred feet away and feels solace in the familiar movements of bringing the bow up, notching the arrow into place, pulling back, releasing.

 

Seulgi says it’s strange that Donghyuck shoots with both eyes open. Most people close one to improve accuracy, but, well, Donghyuck’s never had much trouble hitting the target. The arrow whizzes past him and hits the tree dead center. Donghyuck lets out a heavy breath and pulls out another arrow.

 

There are a few things Donghyuck knows for sure about Yukhei now. He’s definitely a supernatural, and the mark that appeared on Donghyuck’s wrist has something to do with him. Which means they’re connected. Which is…. really fucking annoying and stressful. Donghyuck draws the arrow back before aiming for a spot a bit higher up, and releases. The arrow meets its mark just inches above the first arrow.

 

Yukhei had the audacity to try and play games with Donghyuck. That day was the first time they’d had a conversation, and Yukhei had been as cocky and stupid as Donghyuck always imagined. There’s a mark on Donghyuck’s wrist that looks like a silver brand that won’t go away, and it’s all Yukhei’s fault. The least Yukhei could do is tell him what the fuck is going on. But no, he’s being obnoxious. As expected.

 

The worst part is that it’s late on a Friday night, and Donghyuck has to stew in this feeling over for the whole weekend before he can even think about cornering Yukhei at school. He’s ready to use every trick in the book to get information out of Yukhei. Donghyuck’s never been patient with people withholding information from him. Maybe he could--

 

There’s a crunch of leaves behind Donghyuck, and he twists on his heels, his bow taught and ready, aimed in the direction of the sound. Donghyuck’s eyes are adjusted to the darkness, but it’s hard to see past the thick cover of trees. There’s another rustling sound, and Donghyuck readjusts himself, tracking the sound.

 

“Who’s there?” Donghyuck calls out. “Jaemin if it’s you, I’ll fucking kill you.” He wouldn’t put it past his friend to try and scare him, but he should know better than to try and sneak up on Donghyuck when he’s armed (or in any other circumstance, really).

 

There’s no answer, just more rustling. Donghyuck steps to the right, in the cover of a tree. “If it’s not Jaemin, then I’ll definitely kill you,” Donghyuck says aloud. He considers using his light Rune, but that would put a target on his back. He’s been trained his entire life to defend himself in any scenario, and making light shoot out of his palms seems like a horrible idea.

 

There’s a snap of twigs, closer now, and Donghyuck’s on high alert, back pressed against the trunk. He adjusts his grip on his bow and arrow, ready to shoot at a moment’s notice. Then, there’s a muffled shout, and several thumping sounds.

 

Donghyuck steps out from cover and aims his arrow, shooting in the direction of the sound. There’s a snarl, more shouting, then a sharp snap that echoes in the air. Footsteps fade in the distance, and Donghyuck knows someone escaped, but he knows he hit something. He creeps forward slowly, not making a sound, until he’s close enough to see something on the ground.

 

It’s a body. And a dead one, by the looks of it.

 

“Shit,” Donghyuck hisses, treading carefully. He can’t sense anyone else nearby, so it’s a good a time as any to use the light Rune. He feels it glowing against his back, and opens his palm, letting the white light come out of it. He holds his hand out towards the body, and his blood runs cold.

 

It’s a man, built, in some sort of black uniform, though it’s ripped and bloodied in several places. Donghyuck walks up to him, and feels his adrenaline spike at the sight of the eagle symbol emblazoned on the man’s back. The man, now definitely dead, is still gripping onto what looks like a rifle of some sort. Hunter.

 

Donghyuck pulls his cell phone out quickly and dials Joohyun’s number.

 

“Duckie what’s wrong?”

 

“There was a Hunter in the park,” Donghyuck says, crouching down and assessing the damage. He’s in a pool of his own blood, his throat completely ripped out, with claw marks across his face, making it beyond recognition. “I say was because he’s dead now.”

 

“We’ll be there in five minutes.” Joohyun is silent for a beat. “Donghyuck, did you kill him?”

 

Donghyuck pushes the body around, looking for any signs of his arrow. It hadn’t hit the Hunter, so he looks around the vicinity, and finds it lodged against a tree trunk several paces away. He goes up to it pulls it out. There’s blood on the tip of the arrow. Donghyuck had hit someone-- something-- but it wasn’t the Hunter. “No I didn’t,” he says. Carefully, he touches the blood, and feels the mark on his wrist pulsating.

 

“Shit.”

 

 

“How the hell did this happen?” Sooyoung asks, staring at the body in the backyard. “I put wards in place, he shouldn’t have been able to find us.”

 

Donghyuck chews on his lip. He hadn’t told them about the arrow or the mark or Yukhei, because it had been a mess of a week. He doesn’t know if any of this stuff is connected, anyhow, and he wants to keep this to himself until he can get a better picture. He still hasn’t been able to digest that part of the equation.

 

All he knows right now is that a Hunter somehow made it past all of Sooyoung’s protective wards, meant to confuse anyone with ill will against the supernatural community. Joohyun is on the phone with Boah, the unofficial matriarch of the warrior community, trying to figure out how to proceed.

 

“I think I can answer that.” Everybody turns to see Taeyong, standing on the patio, looking more pale than usual. “This is my fault.”

 

Yeri, who’d been sitting in one of the chairs, lifts her crossbow and points it at him. “You led him here buddy?” For a moment, everyone is completely still, and Donghyuck feels a sick drop in his stomach.

 

To Taeyong’s credit, he doesn’t even flinch, though he does look on the verge of tears. “Not on purpose. I-I think he was tracking me.”

 

Joohyun has ended the phone call, and the look on her face is absolutely blank, which doesn’t bode well for anyone. “You’ll want to explain from the beginning, Taeyong.”

 

The vampire nods, sinking slowly onto one of the stair steps. “When you found me, during the Hunt, I--” Joohyun steps towards Taeyong slowly, and Donghyuck hangs back by the body. “I-- My whole coven-- I think. I think they’re all dead. I barely made it out.”

 

Taeyong bites his lip, eyes welling with tears. He presses the heels of his palms into his eyes. “I was on the run for a while and-- a group of Hunters caught me. They kept me in a cage for weeks. I thought they were going to kill me, and when they shot me, I really thought--”

 

“They left you for us on purpose,” Seungwan fills in, because Taeyong doesn’t seem to be able to speak. She turns to everyone else. “The Hunters wanted us to find him. That dude--” Seungwan tilts her chin in the direction of the body, “-- was probably tracking us. And we led them right to our doorstep.”

 

“I’m so sorry,” Taeyong whimpers. “If you want to kill me, I understand.”

 

“We’re not going to kill you, dude,” Donghyuck says, because his family isn’t merciless like that. That’s what makes his people different from Hunters. “It wasn’t your fault.”

 

“How can you say that?” Taeyong asks, looking so distraught that Donghyuck’s heart twists. “W-when they had me in that… cage. I heard things. They want to kill you, Donghyuck.”

 

Donghyuck has been the Healer since he was twelve years old, and he knows how important but dangerous that role is in their community. This won’t be the first (and certainly not the last) time Donghyuck’s had threats on his life from Hunters, but it never makes things any easier to digest.

 

“Well, I’m really flattered,” Donghyuck says, because he prefers to make light of the situation. He’s got five of the best trained warriors in the world taking care of him, and he can definitely handle himself if it comes down to it.

 

“How can you say things like that? You don’t know what they’re capable of.” Taeyong looks at everyone, slightly frantic, and the fear emanating off of him is tangible in the air. “I’ve never seen so many of them in one place, it was--” He rubs his eyes with his hands. “Don’t underestimate them. That’s what my family did and now they’re--”

 

It’s Seulgi who crouches next to Taeyong and soothes a hand through his hair. “Are you sure they’re all gone?”

 

Taeyong shrugs. “I… didn’t get a chance to see. I wanted to stay back and fight but-- I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”

 

Donghyuck looks at Joohyun. “Mom, we need a game plan.” This is turning out to be one hell of a week, he doesn’t even know where to begin.

 

Joohyun nods, silent for most of the exchange, but that’s always been her style. “We need to mobilize. I’ll get Boah back on the phone, figure out what to do. Sooyoung, work on refortifying the wards. Yeri, I want you coordinating patrols. Seungwan, put out feelers. Find out what people are saying. We need to warn the rest of the community that there might be Hunters nearby.”

 

Everyone nods, starting to break off and head into the house. Joohyun turns to Taeyong next. “We’ll see if we can find your family. Seulgi can do some digging. But--” She narrows her eyes. “You need to help us, however you can.”

 

Taeyong smiles, but it’s small and weak. “I was going to do that regardless.” Joohyun’s lip twitches up in the ghost of a smile. “But won’t it be a waste of time, when the main priority is to protect Donghyuck?”

 

“We protect our own,” Seulgi says. “That’s what we’ve been doing for centuries.”

 

“You said we shouldn’t underestimate the Hunters,” Joohyun says, digging her phone out of her pocket. “But you shouldn’t underestimate us either.” She nods to Taeyong, before stepping away, dialing what Donghyuck assumes is Boah’s number. She hovers over the body of the Hunter, giving it a small shove with the sharp edge of her heel with utter disdain.

 

Donghyuck’s head is spinning, and he knows there’s a lot to figure out, but it’s going to have to wait until the morning. He’s too tired to even tell everyone in the group chat about this right now.

 

He barely registers himself patting Taeyong on the back as he walks up the steps to the patio, and up to his bedroom. It’s the fear of breaking out that makes him go through his full skincare routine before plopping into bed.

 

Donghyuck wraps himself up in blankets before looking at his wrist. The mark is pulsating, just shy of uncomfortable.

 

“Yukhei, what the hell did you do?”

 

 

Saturday mornings are reserved for the local farmer’s market. It’s been somewhat of a tradition for years now, and he’s now resigned himself to waking up early on the weekends to accompany Joohyun and Sooyoung and hold all their bags. (He goes for the sweet tamales and lemonade that Joohyun lets him have. He’s not that selfless.)

 

“Is it really okay for us to be out in the open right now?” Sooyoung asks when Joohyun pulls into the parking lot.

 

“We need to proceed as normal,” Joohyun says calmly. Yeri had been coordinating patrols since last night, and so far, there was no word on any Hunters in the vicinity. Donghyuck had asked Taeyong if he wanted to come along today, but the vampire didn’t seem up to facing anyone right now.  “No need to panic.”

 

Donghyuck breathes a sigh of relief. He doesn’t know what he’d do if Joohyun was one of those overprotective mothers who wouldn’t let her child go out if they so much as sneezed. It makes it so much harder to be a rebellious teenager when your parent is actually reasonable.

 

The farmers market happens every Saturday from eight to one, in the open parking lot of the local community college. Donghyuck takes a deep breath, savoring the aroma of the bacon-wrapped hot dogs Joohyun would never let him have. A tragedy.

 

It’s not quite busy yet, because no self-respecting citizen wants to wake up this early on the weekend. Some of the vendors are still setting up their stalls, and Donghyuck eyes a table laden with crates of fresh strawberries in envy.

 

Joohyun slips Donghyuck a twenty dollar bill, and Donghyuck grins at her. “Stay close,” she says.

 

“Yeah yeah.” Donghyuck bounds over to the strawberry vendor and spends several minutes debating over the perfect selection, before handing over the cash. (Donghyuck lied. He loves the farmers market.) He’s considering also getting some nectarines when he feels the mark warming.

 

He stands up straight, stomach twisting into knots.

 

“Hey.” Donghyuck smells Yukhei before he sees him. It’s that same department store cologne and new fabric scent from earlier this week. Donghyuck turns his head to see Yukhei stepping up next to him. “What are the odds?”

 

“What the hell are you doing here?” Donghyuck hisses, turning away from the fruit stall and stalking off. To his frustration, Yukhei tags behind him.

 

“Same as you, I guess. Here for the strawberries.”

 

Donghyuck whirls around, almost smashing his face into Yukhei’s chest, but stumbles back just in time. “Careful,” Yukhei says, gripping Donghyuck’s arms to steady him.

 

“Are you following me?” Donghyuck asks, stepping out of Yukhei’s hold. “Don’t make me get my mother.” Yukhei’s eyebrows arch in amusement. “She’ll skin you herself,” Donghyuck clarifies, before turning around and frantically scanning the space for Joohyun or Sooyoung or something.

 

Normally, Donghyuck faces challenges head-on, and he’s not scared of Yukhei Wong, definitely not. But right now, he’d rather just hide behind Joohyun than try to deal with whatever the hell is going on here.

 

Donghyuck spots Joohyun at the hummus stand and sighs in relief, walking as quickly as he can without looking like he’s running (which he kind of is). To his utter displeasure, Yukhei keeps up with no problem thanks to his stupidly long limbs.

 

He gets close right in time to watch the hummus guy pouting at Joohyun. “You weren’t here last week, Miss Joohyun,” the guy, Chanyeol, says. It’s pretty obvious he has a big, ugly crush on Joohyun at this point, after so many years. “I saved all the pumpkin greek yogurt for you.”

 

“I was busy last week, Chanyeol,” Joohyun says primly, scanning the display of wares. “Let me try the sun-dried tomatoes,” she all but demands. Chanyeol scrambles to skewer one with a toothpick into the container and holds it out. Joohyun takes it and pops the tomato in her mouth, chewing.

 

“How is it?” Chanyeol asks with wide eyes. Joohyun shrugs.

 

“It’s alright. I’ll take one of those and the fresh mozzarella.”

 

“Of course, Miss Joohyun,” Chanyeol says. Normally, Donghyuck would be laughing, but right now, he’s got his own problem.

 

Joohyun notices them quickly, and flashes Donghyuck an amused look. “Oh, hello Yukhei.” Donghyuck blinks in surprise.

 

He’s further thrown for a loop when Yukhei ducks his head. “Ma’am,” he says politely.

 

“I heard you guys won the game last night,” Joohyun says, taking the bag from Chanyeol, handing the exact change, then ignoring him completely.

 

“Ah, it wasn’t easy,” Yukhei replies, still demure and sweet and, dare Donghyuck say it, shy?

 

“How do you guys even know each other?” Donghyuck asks bluntly, stunned, when Sooyoung walks up a familiar figure in tow.

 

“Look who I just bumped into,” Sooyoung says.

 

“Joohyun, Donghyuck.” Donghyuck gapes at Johnny Seo, the alpha of the local pack of werewolves. He’d come by the house many times to pick up potions and salves from Seungwan, and he’d always struck Donghyuck as a pretty chill guy.

 

“Alpha Seo, we were just talking about Yukhei’s game last night,” Joohyun says. Johnny looks at Yukhei with the pride of a father, and ruffles his hair.

 

“He was slacking last night,” Johnny jokes. Yukhei just stands there and takes the teasing, looking very pleased with the situation. He meets Donghyuck’s stunned gaze and looks down, blushing. “Did I see you in the stands last night, Donghyuck?”

 

It takes a moment to realize he’s being spoken to. He feels Yukhei’s gaze on him and tries to smile through it. “Uh, yeah. It was… interesting.”

 

“You’ve never been to one before?” Donghyuck shakes his head. “Ah, well you should come by more often. Sit with the rest of the pack. I’m sure Xuxi would be happy to explain the rules.” Johnny nudges Yukhei’s shoulder teasingly, and Sooyoung muffles a snort with her hand. Clearly, Donghyuck is missing something here.

 

“Uh sure. That’d be fun,” he says, forcing a laugh. He feels Joohyun pinch his side, and barely suppresses a groan. He knows he’s being impolite, but to be fair, Donghyuck is pretty sure he’s in an alternate dimension right now.

 

“What happened to your arm, Yukhei?” Sooyoung asks. Everyone’s attention is drawn to the bandage wrapped around Yukhei’s bicep. He brings up his opposite hand to cover it by instinct.

 

“Ah, just… banged myself up a bit last night,” he says, looking everywhere but at Donghyuck. Donghyuck thinks of the arrow, lodged into the trunk of a tree, covered in blood. He thinks of the Hunter, with his throat ripped out, mauled like he was attacked by… a giant animal. A giant… wolf.

 

“Donghyuck, why don’t you go get some kettle corn with Yukhei,” Joohyun suggests, none to gently, having put the pieces together. “I want to talk to Alpha Seo.”

 

Donghyuck nods because he values his life. He waves goodbye to Johnny before stepping away from the group and heading for the kettle corn vendor. He feels Yukhei step up behind him, so he stops. “Xuxi?” Donghyuck snides, because he doesn’t know what else to say at this point.

 

Yukhei grins sheepishly. “Pet name. Sort of.” Donghyuck rolls his eyes, stepping into the kettle corn line. It’s short, thankfully. “You can call me Xuxi if you want.”

 

Donghyuck snorts. “Are you my pet?” He eyes Yukhei suspiciously. “Why didn’t you just tell me you were a werewolf?”

 

Yukhei scratches his neck, clearly embarrassed. “I was trying to come of as like… mysterious or something.”

 

“It didn’t work.”

 

“I know. Sorry.”

 

“If you’d just been honest it would have saved me a lot of trouble.” Donghyuck flashes a smile to the kettle corn vendor, ordering the largest size. When Yukhei just stands there uselessly, he raises an eyebrow. “Well? Aren’t you gonna pay?”

 

Yukhei blinks at him in surprise, before sighing, digging into his pocket for his wallet. He hands over the money, and Donghyuck takes the criminally large bag of kettle corn. “...Thanks,” he tacks on, belatedly. Yukhei just hums, hands tucked into his pockets, keeping pace with Donghyuck as he weaves through the stalls.

 

“You’re not wearing your varsity jacket,” Donghyuck blurts, because that’s the best thing he can think of to fill the silence, besides did you just kill a man?

 

Yukhei looks at him, legitimately confused. “Was I supposed to?” He’s in some sort of branded shirt and jeans, and looks almost like a normal, harmless person, if not for the unnatural good looks.

 

“No-- just. Never mind.” Donghyuck scowls, walking past the parking lot to a bench under the shade of a tree. He sits down with a huff and unties the bag and holds it out to Yukhei. “You paid so... “ he says as an explanation.

 

“Thanks,” Yukhei says with an easy grin, reaching into the bag and taking a handful.

 

“I’m a pretty polite person,” Donghyuck says stupidly, before shoving a bunch of the sweet popcorn into his mouth.

 

Yukhei snorts. “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Donghyuck rolls his eyes, and they sit in silence for a few minutes.

 

“Your... arm,” Donghyuck says, after being fed up with the awkward tension. “Is it cuz of my arrow?”

 

Yukhei looks down at the bandage and grins easily. “You have really good aim.”

 

“So you were stalking me.”

 

Yukhei opens his mouth, then closes it. He scratches his head, like he’s trying to figure out how to put it in a way that doesn’t seem creepy. “I--” Eventually, he gives up, choosing instead to undo the straps of his watch and hold out his wrist.

 

“Oh,” Donghyuck says quietly, taking Yukhei’s hand. There, branded onto his skin, is the familiar crescent moon. He traces the outline gently, fascinated with the design. He almost doesn’t notice Yukhei shiver, and looks up, eyebrows raised. “Cold?”

 

“Just the breeze,” Yukhei says gruffly, but his ears are tipped red. Donghyuck doesn’t know why.

 

“I have the same one,” Donghyuck says, letting go of Yukhei’s hand to pull up the sleeve of his sweater.

 

“I figured you might,” Yukhei says quietly. They press their arms together, side by side. It’s a perfect match.

 

“What does it mean?”

 

There’s that same look again, where Yukhei is clearly trying to phrase something so Donghyuck doesn’t freak out. “In pack culture… when someone turns eighteen and like. Shifts for the first time, they get like. A destiny? I guess. I don’t know what else to call it.”

 

“Is that why you weren’t at school on Monday? Because you shifted?”

 

For some reason that Donghyuck can’t explain, that makes Yukhei perk up. “You noticed?”

 

Donghyuck rolls his eyes. “Yeah dude, it was quiet in class.” Yukhei’s shoulders slump at that. Dammit. Donghyuck nudges him with his elbow. “What’s your destiny?”

 

Yukhei turns fully to meet Donghyuck’s gaze. “To protect you. Until the day I die.”

 

Donghyuck blinks. Oh, he’s dead serious . “Dude, whoa. We don’t even know each other. I don’t want you to die for me?”

 

“Well, I will. And--” Now, of all the times, Yukhei decides to pull the kicked puppy look. “I wanna be friends. But you don’t seem to like me very much.”

 

Donghyuck winces at Yukhei’s very convincing pout. “It’s not that I don’t like you--”

 

“I’m not an idiot, Donghyuck.”

 

There’s no arguing with that. “I mean… It’s just that…” Donghyuck groans. “It’s weird, okay? You’re like the main love interest in a cliched early 2000’s teen movie!”

 

“I have no idea what that means.”

 

Donghyuck groans, running a hand through his hair. “Listen. This is the set up for a really bad teen movie. You’re the cute popular jock, I’m the weird emo kid with magical powers. We’re not supposed to get along. It’s just-- It’s not realistic!”

 

“You think I’m cute?”

 

Donghyuck gapes at Yukhei, who’s grinning at him so wide all his teeth are on display. “Is that… all you got from that whole sentence?”

 

“You’re thinking too much. It’s high school, nobody actually cares about anything,” Yukhei says dismissively.

 

“Aren’t you supposed to be hyper-fixated on strangers’ opinions and your status or something?”

 

Yukhei smirks. “Maybe this isn’t a stereotypical teen movie, Donghyuck. Seems like you’re the only one who cares about that stuff.”

 

“I-- I don’t! I don’t care about that stuff,” Donghyuck sputters, but he kind of does, and he hates that Yukhei figured that out about him. He doesn’t want to attract attention more unnecessary, which he will, if the most popular guy at school is suddenly following him around like a puppy. “Let’s start by… being acquaintances,” he concedes.

 

“Potato, pot-ah-to,” Yukhei says, shrugging. “Hunters are out there, Donghyuck. I need to keep you safe.”

 

Donghyuck shoves another handful of kettle corn, almost forgotten, into his mouth. “I’m perfectly capable of doing that by myself, thanks.”

 

Yukhei lifts his bandaged arm. “I learned that for myself, thanks. But… It’s just… I have to at least try, okay? This is what I was born to do,” he says, with such conviction it’s almost concerning.

 

“No, dude. You’re allowed to be your own person and live your life. No one’s gonna die. We can all take care of ourselves.” Donghyuck sighs, looking at the ground. “This is so fucking weird, man,” Donghyuck says, thinking off all the times Yukhei had suddenly popped up, out of nowhere, in the span of a week. Yukhei shrugs, and Donghyuck looks at him out of the corner of his eyes. “Was that your first time killing somebody?”

 

“As a wolf, yeah. It’s a lot easier than in human form.” Yukhei looks so nonchalant about it, and Donghyuck raises an eyebrow. “I’m not a psychopath!” Yukhei splutters. “I just-- I’ve been trained since I was young, okay? I’m just used to it.”

 

Donghyuck sighs. “Nah, I get it. I’m the same.” It’s silent again, but a lot less tense.

 

“So… what does this mean. For us?”

 

Donghyuck shrugs. “I dunno dude. We’ll just play it by ear, I guess? This is kind of one of those weird situations no one prepares you for.”

 

“Sure. Just… let me be close to you? I know we’re basically like strangers but I need to be around you to make sure you’re safe.”

 

Donghyuck is a weak, stupid teenager, so his heart kind of aches a little bit at that, even though he knows the circumstances. “Sure, whatever.”

 

“I’m not so bad, Donghyuck, I promise. I think we could be really good friends!” Yukhei says it with this radiant optimism, and Donghyuck has never had to deal with someone like this before.

 

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, Turbo.” Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he bemoans the fact that the only reason why a hot guy would ever even want to get close to him is because of some divine imperative, or whatever. Naturally, it’s his luck. In this stupid cliche teen movie, he knows how easy it would be to fall for someone like Yukhei. From a distance, he’d been able to mock the people who did. But from this close, sitting on a park bench and sharing kettle corn, it’s easy to be charmed.

 

He won’t let that happen.

 

“Xuxi, time to go!” They both turn their heads towards Johnny, who’s waving them over. They get up from their seat and walk over, Joohyun and Sooyoung joining them moments later. They all say their goodbyes, and are about to part ways, when Yukhei grabs Donghyuck’s wrist.

 

“Let me give you my number,” he says.

 

“As long as you don’t ask me on a date,” Donghyuck says, expecting Yukhei to laugh dismissively as they trade phones. Instead, his cheeks turn a little pink. What is Donghyuck going to do with that small detail?  

 

“There. Just text me. We should hang out soon.”

 

Donghyuck just shrugs vaguely, pocketing his phone.

 

“Duckie, come on!” Sooyoung calls out, and now it’s Donghyuck who turns red.

 

Yukhei flashes him a shit-eating grin. “Duckie?”

 

“It’s a pet name,” Donghyuck grits.

 

“It’s cute. Like you.”

 

Donghyuck blinks in surprise, but before he can ask what the hell that means, Yukhei is already bounding off towards Johnny’s SUV on the opposite side of the parking lot.

 

It takes him a second to gather his wits, turning around to head back to Joohyun’s Jeep. When he gets close, Sooyoung is smirking at him. “ Don’t say a word,” he grumbles, getting into the back seat, wanting to hit her with this obscenely large bag of kettle corn.

 

Joohyun hums, turning the key in the ignition. “He’s cute.”


Chapter Text

The In-n-Out is surprisingly barren for a Saturday night. Donghyuck had been mentally preparing himself for a line out the door, only to find the place pretty much deserted.

 

“It’s our lucky day,” Jaemin drawls, already sliding into one of the U-shaped booths and tugging Renjun along with him. Donghyuck clicks his tongue, annoyed, but he already knows their orders anyway. He and Jeno walk up to the register, and Jeno is already digging out his wallet because it’s his turn to pay.

 

They order four burgers (one without tomato for Renjun, one without cheese for Jeno), two animal fries to split, three neapolitan milkshakes and a strawberry one for Donghyuck. When the order comes, they load the tray with tons of napkins and ketchup before heading back.

 

“Finally,” Jaemin groans, grabbing a burger at random.

 

“That’s not yours,” Renjun says, picking the burger out of his hands before Jaemin can take a bite, and hands it to Jeno instead. Jeno grins widely, pressing a kiss to Renjun’s temple with a foolish grin and a thanks babe.

 

Donghyuck makes a retching sound, using a fork to pick at the animal fries. It’s mostly silent as they work through at least half of their food. It’s Renjun who dabs his mouth primly with a napkin and levels Donghyuck with a look.

 

“So, spill.”

 

Donghyuck swallows down a bite of his burger before putting it down. “Major shit went down in the last twenty four hours, my dudes.”

 

“My mom told me about the Hunter,” Jaemin says, and both Renjun and Jeno look at him in alarm. “What? Joohyun was literally on the phone with her all night. Was I not supposed to hear? Is it a secret?”

 

“It’s not a secret, just--” Donghyuck waves his hands around in the air. “Probably shouldn’t talk about it so in a public place?” He glances surreptitiously at the family in a far corner booth, and the two college kids standing in line. Not exactly Hunter material, but anyone could be out there.

 

“Then why are we here?” Jeno asks, popping a fry into his mouth and licking the thousand island dressing off like a heathen.

 

Donghyuck shoots him a flat look. “Are you complaining?” Jeno just shrugs, taking the napkin Jaemin offers him. “It’s not about that, it’s about--” Donghyuck doesn’t get to finish, because Renjun jerks a little, leaning forward.

 

“Don’t look now, but one Yukhei Wong just walked in,” Renjun murmurs, and the other three turn towards the entrance in sync. “Dammit, I told you not to look.”

 

Donghyuck feels his mark warming against his skin, and tugs the hem of his sleeve down over it. It takes only a second for Yukhei to meet his gaze, and he beams. Donghyuck snaps his head away, feeling his neck turn hot.

 

“Dude, he’s coming towards us,” Jaemin murmurs. “Why is he-- Hey, Yukhei.”

 

“Hey Jaemin. Jeno.” Yukhei’s voice is warm and deep and Donghyuck’s had quite enough of it for one day. “Sorry, I don’t think we’ve met?” Yukhei directs this at Renjun, who introduces himself with pink cheeks. Traitor.

 

And then Yukhei turns his attention to Donghyuck. “Hey, funny running into you again.”

 

Donghyuck laughs flatly. “What are the odds?” His luck is clearly at an all time low if he’s going to run into Yukhei Wong twice in one day.

 

Yukhei takes this seriously. “Right? It’s crazy.

 

There’s an awkward pause, and Jeno thankfully swoops in. “What’re you doing here, man?”

 

“Just grabbing some burgers with the guys.” Yukhei tilts his head towards the register, where a bunch of the members of the football team are huddled. He then looks at Donghyuck again, like he’s expecting him to say something. Donghyuck just shoots him a thumbs up and a forced smile.

 

The light in Yukhei’s eyes dims just slightly, but it’s enough for Donghyuck to notice and feel bad about it. “Uh…” Yukhei scratches the back of his neck. “I should probably…” He sticks his thumb towards his friends. “I’ll see you guys around. Nice to meet you, Renjun.”

 

“Likewise,” Renjun murmurs, still a little starry-eyed.

 

“He is a snack and a half,” Jaemin says, with his chin in his hand.

 

“Ditto,” Renjun says, dazed.

 

Jeno tugs on Renjun’s sleeve, pouting. “Am I snack and a half?”

 

Renjun pats Jeno’s thigh consolingly. “You’re just a snack. You’re not tall enough to be a snack and a half.”

 

Jaemin smirks. “Does that make me a snack and a half?”

 

Renjun tilts his head back and forth. “More like a snack and a quarter, maybe? Still not as tall as Yukhei.”

 

Jeno snickers loudly, and Jaemin looks offended until Renjun kisses him on the mouth.

 

Donghyuck ignores all of this, watching Yukhei walk towards the door, and debating whether to go after him. It takes him five seconds to decide to get up and run after him.

 

“Hey, Yukhei!” Donghyuck calls out. Yukhei whips around immediately. It gets the attention of his friends too, but he just waves them off. “Sorry, I--”

 

“It’s okay! What’s up?”

 

“Uh…” It hits Donghyuck that he really didn’t have a purpose for following after Yukhei, only that the kicked puppy look on Yukhei’s face would render him unable to sleep from guilt for a considerable amount of time. Despite his attempts, Donghyuck isn’t actually a malicious person. He’d sworn Yukhei as his enemy, but that was before they had ever actually interacted, before Yukhei had stared at him with those stupidly earnest eyes. Besides, Joohyun would have his head if he legitimately hurt Yukhei’s feelings.

 

“Nothing, just… your arm,” he says, and Yukhei immediately touches the place where Donghyuck’s arrow went through him last night. Donghyuck winces. “How is it?”

 

Yukhei beams at him. “It’s almost completely healed. It’ll probably scar a little but.” He wiggles his arms around a little bit as if to emphasize that he’s okay. He must see something in Donghyuck’s expression because he hurries to clarify. “It’s seriously chill! It’s not the first and it probably won’t be the last.”

 

“I’m still sorry.”

 

Yukhei raises an eyebrow, a teasing glint in his eyes. “About shooting at me or the scar?”

 

“That you were ever born,” Donghyuck snaps, but Yukhei clearly doesn’t take him seriously. He sighs impatiently, holding out his hand. It takes Yukhei a couple seconds to register what he wants.

 

Yukhei puts his hand in Donghyuck’s tentatively, palm up, and lets Donghyuck trace over the crescent moon with his thumb. Donghyuck feels one of the many healing Runes on his body warm up, and he concentrates on Yukhei’s arm, sealing up the now-shallow wound and making sure there’s no scar tissue. Yukhei shivers, and Donghyuck raises an eyebrow. “Still cold?” It’s a decidedly lukewarm night, and Yukhei’s wearing a flannel.

 

“Ah… no.” That’s all Yukhei says, and Donghyuck runs his thumb over the mark one more time before pulling his hand away. Yukhei shoots Donghyuck a careful look. “What was that for?”

 

Donghyuck shrugs, feeling his ears turn hot. “It just… felt like the right thing to do?” He shifts on his feet. “Sorry for being like. Rude or whatever back there.”

 

Yukhei shakes his head vehemently. “It’s really okay! I promise.” He flashes his pearly white teeth, and Donghyuck huffs. “Thanks for the uh-- healing. It’s super cool that you can do that.”

 

Donghyuck rolls his eyes. “It’s whatever. Anyway, I’m gonna go now that I’ve embarrassed myself for one day! Good fucking night!” And he sprints back inside the In-n-Out before Yukhei can say anything else. He slumps back into his seat and it takes a moment to realize his friends are looking at him like he grew an extra head.

 

“What the hell was that?” Jeno asks.

 

Jaemin glares, poking Donghyuck’s chest. “What is this? Fraternizing with your sworn enemy?”

 

“Fuck off,” Donghyuck sneers, swatting Jaemin’s hand away. “This is what I wanted to talk to you morons about.” Because Donghyuck isn’t sure he can trust his own judgement right now. This whole situation feels like some crazy dream, and he wants his friends to weigh in before he does anything stupid. Well, anything more stupid that he’s already done.

 

He puts his hand on the table and tugs down his jacket sleeve to reveal the crescent moon.

 

“That’s not a Rune,” Jaemin says. Jeno prods at it curiously.

 

“Did you figure out what it was?” Renjun asks. Donghyuck nods.

 

“Yukhei has one too.” Unfortunately.

 

Jeno’s eyebrows shoot up. “What does that mean?”

 

Donghyuck shrugs. “He was super vague about it. Apparently in werewolf culture-- he’s a werewolf, by the way--” He ignores Renjun’s murmur of I fucking knew it, and continues on. “It’s like a destiny thing.”

 

Jeno’s grin is full of shit. “So, what. You’re his destiny?

 

“Fuck off! But yeah, sorta. It’s like… he’s gotta protect me until he dies or something stupidly dramatic like that.”

 

“Wow, now I really feel sorry for the guy,” Jaemin says, yelping when Donghyuck kicks him underneath the table.

 

“If you think about it, it’s pretty romantic,” Renjun says, weighing in. Donghyuck’s ears tip red.

 

“It’s not-- fucking-- No, it’s not romantic?”

 

Renjun stares at Donghyuck blankly. “Name one thing more romantic than destiny, Duckie.”

 

“For one? This strawberry milkshake,” Donghyuck says, picking up the cup and taking a resounding slurp. It’s all melted now, ugh. “Which I will gladly throw at you if you don’t shut up.

 

“So, what. Is he gonna like, follow you around for the rest of eternity now?” Jeno asks.

 

“I don’t know, we didn’t talk about it.” Donghyuck slumps in his seat, assessing his best friends. “What do you think I should do?”

 

Renjun shrugs. “It depends. What does Yukhei want to do?”

 

Donghyuck considers, chewing idly on his straw. “He seems very… enthusiastic. About the whole thing. Which, if you think about it, doesn’t even make sense? Why would he want to even associate with me?”

 

Jeno frowns. “What’s wrong with you?

 

“I mean, like nothing, obviously, but--” Donghyuck is digging himself into the same hole for the second time today, and he’s not a fan. “I mean like. We’re from like, two completely different social strata? I doubt he’d drop his jock friends for a person he doesn’t know all of a sudden.”

 

“Why can’t he do both? Why can’t he keep his old friends and still be friends with you?” Renjun asks, because he always knows how to vocalize the hard questions.

 

“Because--” And Donghyuck doesn’t really have a valid reason. He thinks about how quick Yukhei was to defend him against his meathead friends. Clearly, there were no hard feelings, because Donghyuck had seen Kyle at the register not ten minutes ago. Yukhei didn’t seem to have any particular loyalties to any one group, only to doing what he thinks is right. Which Donghyuck can begrudgingly admit is admirable. “I dunno. It’s weird… all of a sudden.”

 

Jeno is the one who speaks up after a minute of silence. “It’s not like you can escape your destiny anyway. Just try it out, right?”

 

Donghyuck takes one last forlorn sip of his milkshake, before placing the empty cup on the table. “Yeah, yeah.”

 

 

When Donghyuck was thirteen, he found an old CD player in the attic. It had been shoved unceremoniously into a shoebox, along with several Spice Girls and Michael Jackson albums which allegedly belonged to Seulgi. Sooyoung had managed to unearth several Disney movie soundtrack CDs from the back of her closet, and donated them happily to Donghyuck’s collection.

 

One thing Donghyuck does to decompress is to shoot. It’s an easy way to get rid of tension. The other thing he does is walk around town, listening to oldies on this archaic CD player. He can’t count how many times he’s had to go to the dollar store and buy replaceable batteries, but it’s worth it.

 

It’s sweltering outside, which ruins a perfectly idyllic Sunday afternoon, but Donghyuck decides he’s going to procure some ice cream. It’s a Cheetah Girls 2 movie soundtrack kind of day.

 

So he puts on his headphones and makes the trek to the nearest grocery store, trying to ignore the sweat collecting at the back of his neck. Maybe if he lived somewhere colder, he’d feel more justified wearing jackets, but here he is, in the devil’s asshole of the country, in one of the thinnest long-sleeved shirts he could find (it’s Yeri’s, and a faded pink color, with a worn picture of a Persian cat on the front).

 

But it’s not like he can risk exposing his Runes, especially now, with everyone on high alert for Hunters. One look at Donghyuck and it would be a dead giveaway. So he ignores the heat, hating that he skipped the chapter on cooling spells last year, and walks to the grocery store to the rhythm of Strut.

 

It takes all of his willpower not to sing out loud, but once he gets home, he plans on blaring the music in the bathroom while he puts on a face mask or something. It takes him a whole thirty minutes to get to the grocery store, and he sighs in relief when the air conditioning hits him.

 

The store is a little more crowded than he’d like, with everyone doing their last minute grocery shopping for the week ahead, and he dodges the maze of carts until he gets to the frozen foods aisle.

 

“Home at last,” he mumbles to himself, gazing at the shelves of colorful packaging. It takes him some time to decide what high fructose corn syrup disaster to buy, but eventually, he settles on a variety pack of watermelon, orange, and cherry flavored popsicles. It’s an eight-pack, and Donghyuck is relatively certain he can finish them all and rid his mouth of the stains before Joohyun gets home from the council meeting.

 

But the moment he reaches in to grab the box, his mark tingles. “Oh for fuck's sake,” he grumbles, before looking around the aisle and spotting Yukhei at the other end, staring at him. “Dude.”

 

Yukhei smiles sheepishly. “Hi.”

 

Donghyuck stomps over to him, putting the headphones around his neck. “Did your destiny say anything about having to run into each other every day? Because it looks like you’re stalking me.”

 

“I’m not!” Yukhei says. “I’m here getting groceries,” he says, motioning to the display case in front of him.

 

“Frozen lasagna?” Donghyuck asks, face twisted in disdain.

 

Yukhei shoots him another sheepish grin, all teeth and gums. “Okay, you caught me.” He holds up the bag in his hands. “I just wanted to grab some Hot Cheetos.”

 

Donghyuck stares at the bag. “Do you know how bad those are for you?” When Yukhei just blinks at him, Donghyuck slaps his hand over his forehead. “Oh my god, I sound like my mother. Never mind,” he says, waving his hands and forcing himself to smile. “Eat them to your heart’s content. I hope your body fills up with saturated fat.”

 

He turns on his heels and begins stomping away in the direction of the registers, and tries to ignore the fact that Yukhei is trailing after him. This is becoming a very concerning pattern.

 

“What are you buying?” Yukhei asks, peeking over Donghyuck’s shoulder.

 

“Popsicles,” Donghyuck grumbles, putting the box down in front of the bored-looking guy manning the register. He digs through his pockets for a few crumpled dollar bills and puts the coin change into the donation jar for some local charity.

 

“Thanks for your generosity,” the guy drones, handing Donghyuck his receipt. Donghyuck shoots him a thin smile before walking out. Maybe if he hides in the alley, he’ll be able to wait until Yukhei is gone and he can finish listening to his music in peace.

 

Fate’s not on his side. “You need a ride?” Yukhei calls out, taking inhumanely large strides to catch up to Donghyuck.

 

“Why would I need a ride?” Donghyuck asks, turning reluctantly. The sun is shining in full force, and catches on the bleached ends of Yukhei’s blonde-brown hair. It’s stupidly attractive and Donghyuck elects to ignore it.

 

“It’s like a half hour walk back to your house,” Yukhei says. “And it’s like ninety degrees outside. You’re wearing a long-sleeve.”

 

“Maybe I wanna get heat stroke,” Donghyuck points out.

 

“The popsicles’ll melt.”

 

Donghyuck looks down at the box in his hands. Condensation is already collecting on the packaging. He might get through two of the popsicles inside before the rest turns to soup in this weather. “Ugh, fine.”

 

Yukhei flashes his million-dollar smile. “An intellectual,” he says, bounding off towards the parking lot.

 

“That’s a gross misuse of that meme,” Donghyuck calls out, debating whether to try to run and catch up with him. His dignity wins out, so he takes his sweet time, until he stops in front of an obnoxiously red and shiny pickup truck. “This is your car.”

 

Yukhei nods proudly. “Her name is Janice and I love her very much.” He pats the frame lovingly. “Johnny got it for my birthday.”

 

“I’m gonna get a migraine looking at this thing,” Donghyuck says, squinting, because the sun’s glare is too intense with the shiny paint job. Yukhei clicks on the remote and unlocks the car, opening the passenger door. Donghyuck eyes the height between the ground and the step up into the seat.

 

Yukhei smiles teasingly. “Need a lift?”

 

“Fuck off,” Donghyuck grumbles, managing to hoist himself up. A lesser man wouldn’t have made it, but Donghyuck prides himself on being in peak physical condition. He lets out a relieved breath when he plops down onto the seat and wrinkles his nose. The whole thing reeks of leather and new car and cologne.

 

Yukhei gets into the driver's side with ease. “Seatbelt, please,” he sings, before putting his keys into the ignition and starting the car. Immediately, trap music starts blaring loudly from the speakers.

 

“Oh my fucking god, ” Donghyuck yelps, slapping his hands over his ears. Yukhei frantically presses the buttons on the stereo until the volume is more reasonable, and he has the decency to look embarrassed.

 

“Sorry.”

 

“Oh my god,” Donghyuck whimpers again, pressing his forehead against the warm glass of the window. “Why did I agree to this.”

 

“Air conditioning?” Yukhei suggests weakly, emphasizing his point by cranking it up to maximum. Donghyuck doesn’t respond, letting Yukhei pull out of the parking slot and merge into traffic.

 

The music shifts into something familiar, and Donghyuck really does feel a headache brewing behind his temples. “Oh my god, Gucci Gang? Really?” He remembers all too well when this was the only song Jeno would listen to.

 

“It’s a good song!” Yukhei protests.

 

Donghyuck gapes at him. “I wanna be surprised that you said that, but I’m not. So I’ll just be offended.”

 

“What were you listening to?” Yukhei sputters. “Acting like a cool kid with your CD player.”

 

Donghyuck looks down at the beat-up old CD player in his lap, on top of the probably-melting popsicles, and sniffs in disdain, as though he wasn’t bopping to Amigas Cheetahs right before Yukhei caught him at the store. “Classics,” he says, picking at the packaging.

 

Yukhei shoots him a look and a raised eyebrow that tells Donghyuck he knows exactly what he was listening to. “It’s okay, I like those movies too.” Damn werewolf hearing. Donghyuck should have seen this coming. “Prefer High School Musical though.”

 

Donghyuck pauses unwrapping a popsicle. “Which one though.”

 

“Second one, obviously.”

 

Donghyuck licks the popsicle indignantly. “You pass.”

 

“I have good taste,” Yukhei says proudly.

 

“You listen to Gucci Gang unironically, so that statement is totally null and void.”

 

“It’s a good song!” Yukhei says again, and Donghyuck can’t help but giggle. He licks the popsicle again, and he can see Yukhei smiling at him foolishly from the corner of his eyes. “You gonna eat all of those by yourself?”

 

“Why, you want one?” Somehow, the idea of sharing with Yukhei doesn’t seem terribly unappealing. Yukhei is giving him a free ride, anyhow. It’s the least Donghyuck can do, so when Yukhei nods, Donghyuck digs through and unwraps one, handing the ice cream over carefully.

 

“By the way, I meant to ask,” Yukhei says, after biting off half of the popsicle in one go while Donghyuck gapes at him. “Why’re you wearing a long-sleeve in this weather?” He finishes the popsicle off and Donghyuck takes the wooden stick wordlessly. “I never see you in shirts or anything.”

 

“It’s cuz of the Runes,” Donghyuck says, taking out another popsicle and handing it Yukhei, who shoots him a grin. “They’re like the mark we have, but in different sizes and shapes all over my body.”

 

“So like tattoos?”

 

“Not really? They come and go depending on when they’re needed. But I don’t know when they’ll show up.” Donghyuck licks the melted juice off of his palm before finishing his first ice cream.

 

Yukhei shoots him a quick, careful look before returning his gaze to the road. “Does it hurt?” he asks quietly.

 

Donghyuck wordlessly hands him another popsicle, and thinks about the excruciating pain he experienced as a child, the terror of the unknown, of uncontrollable power. “It used to, a lot. Not anymore.” He shrugs. “It’s whatever.” It had taken years of learning meditation, control, pain management, to get to this point where all he registers now is a dull burning sensation on his skin when a new Rune appears. “Things are always easier with time, right?”

 

“Sure,” Yukhei agrees easily, and Donghyuck is grateful he doesn’t press for more. “Can I like… see one? One day? Not today, but like. Some time. In the future.”

 

Donghyuck huffs a laugh. “Yeah sure. It’s nothing special though.”

 

They’re at a red light, and Yukhei turns his head completely to look at him. “Everything about you is special.”

 

Donghyuck blinks at him stupidly, feeling his cheeks flush with heat. He shoves Yukhei’s arm, laughing a little. “Don’t say weird shit like that, dude. We don’t even know each other.”

 

“I know a little more than I did ten minutes ago,” Yukhei points out, easing forward when the light turns green. They’re a block away from Donghyuck’s house now, and he’s not even surprised Yukhei knows where he lives, what with his house being a town legend and the epicenter of all supernatural community things.

 

When Yukhei pulls up into the driveway of Donghyuck’s house, he looks down at all the empty wrappers in his lap. “Dude, you ate like five of my popsicles.”

 

Yukhei laughs easily. “I’ll buy you more if you want.”

 

Donghyuck sniffs, grappling for the door. “You better.” He stuffs all the wrappers into the box. (There’s one popsicle left, and Donghyuck doesn’t really feel like eating it. He’ll probably give it to Yeri if she’s home. Otherwise, he’ll probably have to flush it down the toilet before Joohyun sees.)

 

He hops down from the car, almost dropping his CD player in the process, and is glad Yukhei couldn’t possibly have seen that happen. He walks to the other side of the car, where Yukhei is leaning out of his open window. “Thanks for the ride, I guess.”

 

“No problem. Let me know if you ever need one again.”

 

Donghyuck mock salutes him. “See you around, Wong.”

 

Yukhei just flashes him another grin. Donghyuck wonders if he’ll ever get used to the gut punch that comes with them. “Later, Duckie.”

 

Donghyuck barely resists tossing his CD player at him.

 

 

Monday brings a new set of problems.

 

“Good morning!” Yukhei chirps, plopping down into the seat in front of Donghyuck’s, jerking him out of his half-assed nap.

 

“Dude,” Donghyuck groans, rubbing his eyes. Staying up until two because he’d let Yeri test her new highlighters on when he had calculus homework waiting was not one of his smartest decisions. Mondays are horrible enough in principle, and being sleep-deprived just makes it worse. “You know you can’t sit here right? There’s assigned seating.”

 

Yukhei is unphased. “I’ll leave when class starts. I just wanted to come and wish you a good morning!” Yukhei speaks with too many exclamation points for a Monday morning.

 

“How are you so… happy right now.”  

 

“It’s Monday! A brand new week!”

 

Donghyuck winces, wondering whether Yukhei’s inside voice is just on a different plane of existence from regular people. “Right.”

 

“Also, I wanted to ask if I could sit with you at lunch.”

 

Yukhei has that stupidly sincere look on his face again, and Donghyuck just blinks at him owlishly. “Why?”

 

His mouth drops into a pout. “I was serious when I said I wanted to be friends. You don’t want to?”

 

“I didn’t say that,” Donghyuck says, too quickly. He scowls, looking down at his desk. “Fine. If you want.”

 

“Sweet!” Yukhei cheers. The first bell rings, and he pats Donghyuck’s arm before getting up from his seat. The air around Donghyuck smells like cologne for the rest of the period.

 

 

Yukhei is, apparently, very serious about lunch. Donghyuck jolts when Yukhei comes up to his table and drops a giant lunch bag on top with a resounding thump.

 

“Hi guys!” Yukhei greets, plopping down into the seat opposite Donghyuck.

 

Renjun grins, looking up from his textbook. “Hey Yukhei. Donghyuck told us you’d be coming by.” Fucking traitor.

 

“Hope you don’t mind,” he says sweetly, unzipping the lunch bag.

 

Renjun’s cheeks tint a little pink. “Not at all.”

 

Donghyuck watches as Yukhei takes out two giant tupperware containers, one filled to the brim with chicken, the other one a mix of rice and broccoli. “Dude.” Yukhei looks up from digging through the bottom of his lunch bag. “You’re gonna eat all that?”

 

“I eat five meals a day,” he explains, making an aha sound when he finds what he’s looking for, holding up a plastic fork with a triumphant grin. When he notices both Renjun and Donghyuck’s abashed looks, he shrinks a little. “I’m a growing boy.”

 

“How much more do you even need to grow?” Donghyuck groans. “You’re like six feet tall.”

 

“Six foot two, to be exact,” Yukhei says proudly, before shoving a piece of broccoli into his mouth.

 

Donghyuck looks down at his own lunch-- it’s a sandwich (whole wheat bread, veggie pattie, organic mayonnaise, and two slices of tomato). He pushes it away and turns to Renjun. “Where are Jeno and Jaemin?” Maybe if his other friends were here it’d be easier to ignore Yukhei, eating like a starved man.

 

Renjun looks at him with annoyance, clearly not happy to be pulled out whatever he’s reading in his textbook. “Making out on the roof probably.”

 

“Shouldn’t you be joining them?”

 

Renjun gives Donghyuck a look that makes him feel like an idiot. “I have a chemistry quiz after lunch.” Donghyuck notes that Yukhei’s stopped eating, looking at Renjun curiously but trying to be slick about it (he’s not). Eventually, Renjun huffs and slams his book shut. “It’s too loud here. I’m gonna go to the library or something.”

 

Donghyuck gives him a pleading look, but Renjun just flashes his teeth in the most evil smile, and grabs his bag. “See you guys later. Enjoy your lunch, Yukhei.” He’s off before Donghyuck can even attempt to call him back, and now he’s left with the human trash disposal.

 

“So… what’s the deal with those three?” Yukhei asks, already half done with the truly monstrous amount of food in front of him. Donghyuck digs through his own lunch bag for the container of strawberries Joohyun had been merciful enough to pack for him.

 

“They’re all disgustingly in love with each other,” Donghyuck says, before arching an eyebrow. “Why? You got a problem with that?”

 

Yukhei waves his hands in front of him frantically. “No, no. Not at all.” He clears his throat, clearly flustered. “If anything it’s like. Super cool. More love all around, right?”

 

Donghyuck has to laugh at that. “Yeah, I guess.”

 

Yukhei eyes him carefully. “Have you ever like? Considered that?” When Donghyuck raises his eyebrows in confusion, he hurries to clarify. “I mean like. Dating more than one person at once?”

 

“Uh, I don’t think that’s really for me,” Donghyuck says. “I’m too much of an emotional trainwreck to try and sustain one romantic relationship, much less two or more.”

 

Yukhei looks almost comically confused. “You don’t seem like an emotional trainwreck?”

 

“It’s a joke, Wong.”

 

“Oh, okay.”

 

“Anyway, it’s not like people are exactly standing in line to date me.” Unlike you, Donghyuck doesn’t say aloud. That makes Yukhei frown even more, but he doesn’t say anything in response.

 

It’s silent again as they eat but it doesn’t last very long, unfortunately. “So does that mean you’re not dating anyone right now?”

 

Donghyuck stops chewing on his strawberry and looks at Yukhei, a little thrown off by the question. “Yeah I guess? I mean yes, I’m not? Dating anyone?”

 

Yukhei nods earnestly. “Okay, good to know.”

 

And because Donghyuck is a self-hating idiot and really bad at small talk, “Are you dating anyone?”

 

“I’m not. I’m totally single,” Yukhei says, dragging out the words.

 

“Uh, okay.” Donghyuck frowns, feeling his heart thumping a little too fast against his ribs. Idiot. Why does he feel strangely relieved? Moron.

 

“What’s your star sign?” Yukhei asks, not letting the conversation petter off for long. Donghyuck shrugs, looking for a napkin to wipe the strawberry juice from his fingers.

 

“I dunno?”

 

“When’s your birthday?” Yukhei presses.

 

“June sixth?”

 

Yukhei’s mouth opens in a wide O shape. “You’re a Gemini sun.”

 

Donghyuck eyes Yukhei, digging through his backpack with one hand to look for a napkin because Joohyun didn’t pack one for him. “You pay attention to that stuff?”

 

Yukhei nods, ears tipped red. “It’s interesting.” He bites his lip, clearly considering something. “I’m an Aquarius.”

 

Donghyuck sighs in relief when he finds a crumpled up, relatively clean-looking tissue at the bottom of his bag, and wipes his fingers. “Okay, cool.”

 

“Did you know that Aquarius and Gemini are really compatible?”

 

“Really,” Donghyuck hums, picking off the stem of a strawberry.

 

“Like. Really compatible.”

 

Donghyuck looks up at Yukhei, a little startled to see him blushing a little. He wonders why. “That’s nice?” And because Yukhei looks a little put out by his lukewarm response, “It’s funny then, isn’t it? That you’re an Aquarius and I’m a Gemini.”

 

Yukhei laughs weakly, stabbing at a piece of chicken. “Yep. Hilarious.”

 

 

Donghyuck looks up from his history homework when he hears the crunch of gravel on the driveway. His desk right next to his window, which overlooks the driveway. He leans forward to get a better look at the SUV now parked out front, and makes a noise of excitement when he sees Johnny Seo get out of the car.

 

He abandons his work and doesn’t run exactly, but he walks out of his bedroom and down the hall at a brisk pace. By the time he’s halfway down the spiral stairs, Johnny’s been let into the foyer by Seungwan.

 

“Alpha Seo!” Donghyuck calls out.

 

Johnny looks up and grins. “What’s up little man?”

 

Donghyuck grins, hurrying the rest of the way down. He doesn’t know what it is, but he likes Johnny a lot. Besides over the weekend, Donghyuck had run into him a few times when he was doing business with Sooyoung or when someone in his pack got hurt. Johnny is the kind of person who makes Donghyuck feel at ease, which is rare and cherished.

 

“Alpha Seo,” Joohyun greets, coming out of the kitchen, wiping her hands with a dish towel before shaking Johnny’s. “How can I help you?”

 

“I was in the neighborhood and wanted to come by. Sooyoung has some salves for the pack and I figured I’d save her the trip.”

 

“She’s not here but I know what you’re talking about. I’ll go grab them,” Seungwan says, punching Johnny’s arm lightly before walking up the stairs, past Donghyuck.

 

“What’s up, Donghyuck?” Johnny asks.

 

“Nothing much, just homework,” Donghyuck says, hopping down from the last step. Johnny reaches forward to ruffle his hair.

 

“Wish Xuxii’d do his,” he grumbles, rolling his eyes. “Speaking of, I hope he hasn’t been bothering you too much.”

 

Donghyuck purses his lips and tries to smile politely. “Not any more than usual.”

 

At that, Johnny, laughs, and it’s a loud, thunderous sound that echoes through the foyer. Donghyuck likes it a lot. “I like you, kid.” Donghyuck grins. “Actually, I wanted to talk to you and your mom here about something, since I’m here.”

 

“What is it?” Joohyun asks, eyebrows arched.

 

Johnny slides his hands into his pockets, the picture of nonchalance. “I was thinking, what with the ongoing threat right now, that maybe Xuxi could join Donghyuck and his friends for training.”

 

Donghyuck widens his eyes and shoots Joohyun a pleading look. Having Yukhei trailing behind him at school is annoying enough, Donghyuck doesn’t want to see him after school too. And he doesn’t want to admit that Yukhei’s unflinching interest is making him nervous.

 

Joohyun smiles at Johnny. “I think that’s a great idea. They could learn a lot from each other.”

 

Donghyuck barely suppresses a groan. Everyone around him is a traitor.

 

Johnny grins back. “Perfect,” he says, clapping Donghyuck on the back with so much force that Donghyuck topples forward a little and has to grip onto the banister for support. “Yukhei will be really happy, he really likes you, Donghyuck.”

 

“I can tell,” Donghyuck says as evenly as he can while wondering if he may have dislocated a spinal disk.

 

“Hey Joohyun, I’m gonna put more cumin into the—“ Everyone turns their heads when Taeyong appears from the kitchen, wearing a pink apron Donghyuck bedazzled with Kiss the Cook when he was twelve. He comes to a stop when he sees Johnny, and makes a noise suspiciously similar to a meep, before booking it back into the kitchen.

 

“Who’s that?” Johnny asks, looking a little dazed, and oh-- Donghyuck finds that very interesting.

 

“That’s Taeyong. He’s a vampire. He’s cute right?” Donghyuck asks.

 

“Huh?” Johnny turns to Donghyuck absently, having been staring at the spot Taeyong was standing. “Taeyong?”

 

“Yep. He’s staying with us for now. He’s a really great cook. Kinda shy though. You should come over for dinner some time--” Donghyuck grunts when Joohyun elbows him in the stomach.

 

“Taeyong,” Johnny murmurs, like he’s testing the name on his tongue. Donghyuck can’t wait to tell Yukhei about this.

 

“Alrighty, here we go,” Seungwan announces loudly, coming down the stairs with a box full of vials and jars.

 

“Let me--“ Johnny says, taking the box out of her hands. “Thanks a lot.” He shoots Donghyuck and Joohyun a sheepish look. Donghyuck grins. “Oh! And I almost forgot, there’s an away game this Friday, you should come, Donghyuck.”

 

“Oh, uh--“ Donghyuck considers looking at Joohyun for help, but he remembers that she is now Benedict Arnold. “I don’t really know much about football.”

 

“Nonsense! It’s not too hard. I’ll even pick you up. I think Xuxi would be really glad you came.”

 

Donghyuck feels an embarrassed flush at the back of his neck. “Aha… he wouldn’t notice.”

 

“Of course he would! Last week when he saw you in the stands he couldn’t shut up about it.” Donghyuck’s mouth opens in shock, mind reeling. They hadn’t even… started talking back then. Noticing Donghyuck’s surprise, he curses. “I wasn’t supposed to say that, was I? Do me a favor and don’t tell Xuxi I told you?”

 

“O-okay?” Donghyuck walks to the door and holds it open for Johnny to walk through. He hesitates on the porch.

 

“And uh. Tell Taeyong I hope to meet him properly. Soon.”

 

That makes Donghyuck smirk, suddenly having bigger fish to fry. “I’ll be sure to do that.” He waves and watches Johnny pull out of the driveway and thinks idly to himself that things just got a whole lot more interesting.

Chapter Text

Jeno’s body hits the ground with a resounding thud. He makes a warbled sound, grunting when Yukhei sits on top of him, twisting his arms behind his back.

 

“Uncle! Uncle!” he squawks, trying desperately to wriggle free. Yukhei rolls off him easily, grinning sheepishly. “For fuck’s sake,” Jeno groans, lying on the sparring mat, staring at the ceiling.

 

“Sorry dude,” Yukhei says, getting to his feet and offering Jeno a hand. He lifts Jeno easily, to the point where Jeno almost goes stumbling forward, but Yukhei steadies him before he can fall again.

 

“I would have totally won if he wasn’t a werewolf,” Jeno grumbles.

 

Donghyuck and Jaemin pause their own sparring to look at him. Jaemin wrinkles his nose. “What does that have to do with anything?”

 

Jeno’s face is twisted into an embarrassed scowl as he eyes his two boyfriends, but Renjun isn’t even paying attention, sketching something in a corner and making his colored pencils float. “You know like? Crazy agility and strength?” He shoots Yukhei a pleading look. “Right?”

 

“I wasn’t using it, though?” Yukhei says, head tilted in confusion. Jaemin lets out an ugly snort. “That would be cheating.” Jeno’s face flushes red.

 

“He’s better than you, dumbass!” Donghyuck hollers, because he can. Jeno just glares at him and spreads his legs, fists up.

 

“Square up, dude.”

 

Yukhei shoots Donghyuck an amused smile, before taking his own starting position. Then they go at each other again. It takes approximately one minute for Jeno to go down. Again.

 

“You guys should focus too,” Renjun says, voice airy and far away as he frowns up at the ceiling, where his pencils have gotten stuck to the roof.

 

“But it’s so funny,” Donghyuck says, watching Jeno spring to his feet. His hair is matted to his forehead with sweat, but Yukhei looks like he’s taken a leisurely stroll through the park.

 

“Come on Lee,” Jaemin says, already swinging a fist at Donghyuck. He ducks out of the way, using his momentum to aim a fist at Jaemin’s torso, which gets blocked easily.

 

It had taken Donghyuck a while to get used to mixed martial arts. When Yeri was teaching him, she’d made it clear that the learning curve was high, and that it wouldn’t necessarily make sense for a while. It’s a very strategy-heavy sport, requiring quick thinking along with quick feet.

 

After so many years now, though, it’s easy to fall into a pattern, his body familiar to him in a way it never would be if he didn’t use it regularly like this. He and Jaemin are evenly matched, given they started training together at the same age. Jeno had joined them later, but he was even better than them, picking up the sport quickly.

 

That’s why, when Yukhei had shyly entered their training room in the basement, Jeno had volunteered himself as his sparring partner, to get a gauge of Yukhei’s skill.

 

“Can he just like, stop being good at everything?” Donghyuck mutters. He’s distracted enough that Jaemin lands a blow against his hip, and Donghyuck stumbles to his knees. Jaemin is relentless, using the leverage to wrestle Donghyuck to the ground and grab his arms.

 

Jaemin hovers over him with a toothy smile. “Focus, Duckie.” Donghyuck grunts, managing to twist out of Jaemin’s grip, rolling to the side and using his feet to kick out. Jaemin grabs his leg and drags him closer. Donghyuck kicks out again, hitting Jaemin’s shoulder, and he hisses in pain. It’s enough time for Donghyuck to scramble away, getting to his feet.

 

His hip throbs with pain, and he’s going to have to ice it later. Jaemin gets to his feet with a wince, holding his shoulder. “Time out.”

 

Donghyuck lets out a sigh of relief, immediately dropping his posture. “I’ll go grab some ice.”

 

“I’ll help!” Yukhei calls out immediately from where he has Jeno in a headlock. He lets Jeno go, who slops onto the mat with a gasp.

 

“I can do it by myself--” Donghyuck starts, but Yukhei’s already bounding over to him with a grin. He sighs, resigning himself to his fate, and starts climbing the stairs out of the basement. Yukhei trails behind him, way too close for comfort.

 

“So, there’s a football game on Friday,” Yukhei says.

 

“Is there?” Donghyuck says, purely out of loyalty to Johnny.

 

“You should come! I mean, it’s an away game, but I’m sure Johnny’d be happy to drive you.” Yukhei shrinks under Donghyuck’s gaze. “I mean, if you want to.”

 

Donghyuck knocks on the frame of the moving ocean painting as they round the corner into the kitchen. “I’ll consider it,” he says, even though he’d already made up his mind a while ago. He’s an idiot like that.

 

“Oh, hey guys,” Taeyong says, looking up from plating a fresh batch of cookies. “I was just gonna bring these down for you.”

 

“Whoa! Are those Nutella?” Yukhei asks, his voice far louder than necessary. He reaches for one, but Taeyong whacks his hand with a spatula, his vampire reflexes a perfect match for Yukhei’s werewolf ones.

 

“You can have them with everybody else,” Taeyong says sternly. Donghyuck suppresses a shiver-- Taeyong is already becoming Joohyun Part Two. Ever since they found out he has a knack for cooking, Taeyong had taken over all food duties, and now he acts like he birthed Donghyuck and his friends himself.

 

He opens the freezer, pulling out three ice packs-- Jeno hadn’t asked, but he’ll probably need one too, maybe more. Yukhei is the only one of them who looks unfazed by sparring-- his normally neat hair is unstyled today, flopping into his eyes, making him seem even more like a puppy, especially while he hovers over Taeyong’s shoulder, pouting.

 

“Oh, for god’s sake,” Taeyong sighs, caving and handing a cookie to Yukhei, who beams and shoves the whole thing in his mouth. He beams at Donghyuck, who snickers, because there’s chocolate all over his normally-white teeth. Idiot.

 

“Come on, Wong,” Donghyuck says, leaving the kitchen.

 

“Where are we--” Yukhei starts asking when they pass by the open door down to the basement. Donghyuck rolls his eyes and grabs Yukhei’s wrist, tugging him further into the house.

 

“I needed to talk to you where Taeyong couldn’t hear,” Donghyuck says, keeping his voice low regardless.

 

“Huh?” Yukhei asks, looking down at where Donghyuck’s hand is wrapped around his wrist. Donghyuck lets go quickly, clearing his throat. He hadn’t noticed he was still touching Yukhei.

 

Yukhei is still staring at his wrist, so Donghyuck snaps his fingers in front of his face. “Focus, Wong.” Yukhei blinks up at him. “I’m gonna bring you in on a little secret, okay?” Yukhei’s eyes widen, and he bends down when Donghyuck motions him closer, so that their foreheads are almost pressed together.

 

“Can you get two tickets for the game?”

 

Yukhei frowns. “Does your mom wanna come too? Cuz--”

 

“No, no. I want a ticket for Taeyong.”

 

“Taeyong? He wants to come to my game?”

 

Donghyuck rolls his eyes. “He doesn’t want to. But he will.”

 

Yukhei’s frown deepens. “I’m confused.”

 

“Honestly, keep up Wong--”

 

Yukhei clicks his tongue. “Stop calling me Wong. I have a first name you know.”

 

Donghyuck grits his teeth. “ Yukhei. I’m trying to get Johnny and Taeyong together.”

 

“Why would you mff-- ” Yukhei grunts when Donghyuck slaps his hand over his mouth.

 

“Do you even have an indoor voice? What kind of spy are you?”


“I’m not a spy!” Yukhei hisses after Donghyuck drops his hand. “And you’re not making any sense!”

 

Donghyuck rubs the bridge of his nose in frustration. “It’s not that hard! Johnny came by the other day and they saw each other and--” He wiggles his fingers in front of him.

 

Yukhei mimics the motion. “And--?”

 

Chemistry, dumbass! They had chemistry! You know like when two people see each other for the first time and--” Donghyuck claps his hands together. “Bam! Instant chemistry.”

 

“How do you even know that?”

 

“Anyone with eyes can tell they liked each other. You can see for yourself if you get Taeyong a ticket too.”

 

Yukhei frowns. “Now that I think about it… when Johnny got home from your house he ran into a tree.”

 

“See what I mean? Chemistry.” Donghyuck tries not to fidget under Yukhei’s suddenly-intense gaze. He’s not a coward, he can take eye contact. Even if it’s from a stupidly handsome boy who smells nice and has gorgeous eyes and--

 

“Fine, on one condition.”

 

Donghyuck scoffs, feeling the back of his neck prickle with heat. “Are we bartering for goods here?”

 

Yukhei narrows his eyes. “One condition.” Donghyuck has to admire his tenacity, so he caves.

 

“Fine, what?”

 

Yukhei beams. “Wear my extra jersey at the game.”

 

Donghyuck blinks at him. “Only friends and family do that.” Donghyuck understands very little about sports, but he knows this, at least.

 

Yukhei tilts his head, innocent. “Don’t you count as friends and family?”

 

Donghyuck wants to say no on instinct, but it would probably really hurt Yukhei’s feelings, and he doesn’t enjoy that kicked puppy look nearly as much as he’d hoped. So he sighs and grumbles, “Fine.”

 

“Nice! I’ll give it to you at school tomorrow.”

 

“Whatever. Just make sure to get an extra ticket. And follow my lead, okay? We’re gonna play cupid.”

 

“Good with me.” Yukhei shrugs, mirth making his eyes sparkle.

 

“Fine.”

 

“Fine,” Yukhei parrots. His smirk is teasing, and Donghyuck wants nothing more than to wipe it right off. And then he realizes how close they are. Yukhei’s gaze drops down to Donghyuck’s mouth rather obviously, and it makes him hyper-aware that if he got on his tiptoes, just a little--

 

“My hands are freezing,” Donghyuck says, taking a step back. He can’t feel his fingers because he’s been gripping the ice packs for so long. Yukhei takes them from him wordlessly, and Donghyuck stares at his back for a few seconds before running after him.

 

 

“Donghyuck, please don’t make me do this,” Taeyong whines, sitting on the bottom step of the stairs with his head in his hands.

 

“You really waited until you got all dressed up and Johnny’s like two minutes away to start complaining? Really?” Donghyuck asks, pocketing his phone.

 

“I can’t do this. There are so many reasons why this is a bad idea--”

 

“You need to go outside at some point! Why not a good old high school football game to bring back nostalgia, huh? Think about your youth!”

 

Taeyong scowls. “What are you talking about, I go outside!”

 

Besides to the grocery store.”

 

Taeyong opens his mouth, then closes it, realizing he has no counter-argument. He fiddles with the scarf he’d wrapped around him, looking like he’d rather just cover his whole face with it. “I made a fool of myself last time I talked to him.”

 

“Technically you didn’t say anything. You just kinda... meeped. And then ran away.”

 

Taeyong shoots Donghyuck a flat look. “You’re very helpful, thank you.”

 

“If it helps, he definitely didn’t think badly of you for it.” When Taeyong arches a brow in confusion, Donghyuck waves it off. “Anyway, this is your chance to redeem yourself. Make a new, special friend.”

 

Taeyong mouths special friend while fiddling with his scarf. He looks like he’s debating just choking himself with it, but Donghyuck narrows his eyes at Taeyong, and he sighs, dropping his hands. They both look towards the door when they hear the telltale crunch of gravel under tires.

 

“Donghyuck I really can’t do this. I’m not ready, I’m not even dressed properly--” Donghyuck purses his lips, knowing full well Taeyong spent two hours trying to figure out what to wear and what to do with his hair.

 

“Listen, Taeyong, he’s probably going to spend most of the time blubbering because of how pretty he thinks you are, so just shut up and answer the door-- ” Donghyuck grits out. Taeyong turns a hilarious shade of scarlet, jerking when the doorbell rings.

 

He gets up with shaky legs and goes towards the door, shooting Donghyuck one last pained look, before undoing all the bolts. He opens the door, and it’s almost hilarious the matching stunned looks on both Taeyong’s and Johnny’s faces.

 

“Uh…” Johnny says, eyes wide.

 

“Hello,” Taeyong says quietly, staring directly at the floor.

 

“I-- Hi--” Johnny sticks out his hand almost mechanically. “I didn’t get to introduce myself last time. I’m Johnny.”

 

Taeyong takes his hand gingerly, and Donghyuck has to purse his lips to keep from laughing at both of their reactions. “I’m… Taeyong.”

 

“It’s nice to smell-- I mean. Meet you. It’s nice to meet you,” Johnny blubbers, and Taeyong’s cheeks flush.

 

“Uh. Same. Meet, not smell though.” They both share a horrendously awkward laugh, and they’re still holding hands. Donghyuck coughs loudly, deciding enough is enough. They’re both bound to just stand there all night if Donghyuck doesn’t do anything about it.

 

“Hi Johnny! Ready to go?” he asks a little too loudly, sliding up behind Taeyong.

 

Johnny blinks at Donghyuck, like he’s just noticing his presence. “Oh, hey little man. Yeah let’s--” Both Johnny and Taeyong seem to realize they’re still holding hands right then, because they jerk away.

 

“Let’s go! We’re gonna be late,” Donghyuck says, flashing his teeth and sliding past the truly poor excuse for adults to head over to Johnny’s giant SUV. “I call the backseat!” he hollers, already getting in. Taeyong trails behind Johnny, shooting Donghyuck a murderous look.

 

They settle into the car without much preamble. “Oh, by the way, Xuxi told me to give you his jersey,” Johnny says. “It’s in the backseat.”

 

“He forgot to bring it every day this week,” Donghyuck grumbles, and he really shouldn’t have been surprised at how absentminded Yukhei is. He grabs the jersey folded on the seat next to him and opens it up. “This is a dress,” he says, and Johnny laughs, turning on the ignition.

 

“Just wear it over your hoodie,” he suggests. Donghyuck sighs, tugging it on. Thankfully, it smells like laundry detergent, like someone washed it recently, and he thanks god for that. If it smelled like boy-sweat he would have had to burn it.

 

Johnny casts a look at Taeyong. “Ready to go?” Taeyong smiles shyly at him and nods, and Johnny doesn’t make a motion to back out of the driveway.

 

Donghyuck rolls his eyes and leans forward, smacking Johnny on the shoulder. “I’m ready too! Make sure to keep your eyes on the road, please.” Johnny actually blushes at that, and Donghyuck hides the smile into the sleeve of his hoodie, sitting back.

 

village idiot

 

duckie: the plan is a go!

village idiot: NICENICENICENICENICNIECIIE

village idiot: what are they like TT

duckie: dumb as hell but it’s cute. youll see soon enough

duckie: unless u get hit on the head with the ball and die, ofc

village idiot: :(((((((((((

village idiot: also why am i village idiot in this chat what does that mean

duckie: if u made me duckie then i get to choose your name

village idiot: why can’t i be xuxi??? i put xuxi into the contact on ur phone :(((((((

duckie: can u PLEASE stop doing that???

village idiot: what :(((((((

duckie: THAT!!! THE :((((

village idiot: but im :((((((((((((((

duckie: i can literally SEE you doing it in my head

 

duckie changed village idiot ’s name to xuxi

 

duckie: ugh

xuxi: :DDDDDDDDDDDD <33333333333333

duckie: shut up

duckie: how can u even be texting rn shouldnt u be running around on the field rn

xuxi: we’re in the locker room!!! we’re abt to go out tho uwu

duckie: fine

duckie: good luck or whatever. dont die

xuxi: i cant die before i get to see u wearing my jersey uwuwuwuwuwuwu

duckie: NEVER MIND! GO DIE

xuxi: i love u too!!!!!!!!!! im going now byeeeeeeeeeeee

duckie: bye

 

Donghyuck scowls down at his phone, feeling betrayed by the heat prickling onto his face. He doesn’t know how Yukhei can just say stuff like that, and he feels like he was just manipulated somehow.

 

He sniffs indignantly, dropping his phone into his lap and focusing on Johnny and Taeyong, who are suspiciously silent in front of him. The only thing telling Donghyuck that they’re not statues is that they both keep sneaking looks at each other. Embarrassing.

 

The rest of the drive goes pretty smoothly, and Donghyuck spends most of the time on his phone, scrolling through Twitter and ignoring Jaemin’s complaints in the group chat about the referee at Jeno’s soccer game.

 

Donghyuck winces when he gets out of the car; the air is startlingly cold, and he’s glad he’s wearing his biggest, warmest hoodie. Yukhei’s jersey doesn’t help much, but it does go down to Donghyuck’s knees.

 

“How cute, it matches your hair,” Taeyong coos. Donghyuck scowls, because he’s not wrong. Their school colors are black and red, and in a weird way, it matches with his fire engine red hair.

 

“Everybody’s waiting for us,” Johnny says, leading them to the gates and flashing their tickets so they can go through. The energy in the air increases tenfold, with all the loud cheering, and the marching band’s drumline tapping out a very enthusiastic beat as the players run around on the field.

 

Donghyuck notices Saeron among the cheerleaders, and he has to wave out of sheer loyalty to Yeri. They’ve got on matching red and black uniforms, their hair pulled up into high ponytails and held together with big red ribbons. There are people walking up and down the stands selling lemonade and popcorn, and it’s slightly overwhelming.

 

From beside him, Donghyuck feels Taeyong tensing a little bit. He immediately winds his hands around Taeyong’s arm, and the vampire shoots him a grateful look. “It’s just loud,” Taeyong mumbles.

 

“It’s high school,” Donghyuck says as a consolation. Taeyong smiles wryly, trying to keep up with Johnny as he winds through the throngs of people. Eventually, they get to a section in the very middle of the away-side of the stadium, with a bunch of guys sitting on top of red and black blankets, looking very settled.

 

“Hey guys,” Johnny says. Donghyuck feels Taeyong tense again, so he squeezes his hand in comfort. “This is Donghyuck and Taeyong. They’re Xuxi’s friends.”

 

“We know, Xuxi couldn’t shut up about it all week.” A man, looking only slightly older than Donghyuck himself, smiles wryly. “I’m Jungwoo.”

 

“This is Kun, he’s Xuxi’s cousin,” Johnny points out to a man in the row right below, who turns and waves with a sweet smile.

 

“Mom, more like. It’s nice to finally put faces to the names.” Donghyuck puts up a peace sign, and Taeyong waves shyly, gripping his hand tight.

 

“And this is my beta, Jaehyun,” Johnny says, introducing the man sitting in the middle of the row, who flashes his dimples.

 

“Nice to meet you both.” Jaehyun’s eyes linger a little too long on Taeyong for Donghyuck’s liking.

 

“We should grab some seats,” Johnny says, motioning for Donghyuck and Taeyong to sit themselves down first.

 

“Taeyong, you can sit next to me,” Jaehyun offers.

 

“Actually--” Donghyuck says, sliding past Taeyong to plop himself down on the seat next to Jaehyun. “I’ll take this spot if you don’t mind. I wanna know all the dirt on Yukhei, and Johnny won’t tell me anything.”

 

Jaehyun blinks in confusion for a moment, before smirking. “I’m definitely your guy. Johnny’s too loyal.”

 

Donghyuck winds a hand around Jaehyun’s shoulder, flashing his canines and watching out of the corner of his eye as Taeyong sits beside Johnny, looking a little flustered. “I think you and I are going to be great friends.”

 

 

“Are we even supposed to understand anything the announcers are saying?” Donghyuck complains. It’s the third quarter, and he’s pouting at Johnny.

 

“Even if we did, it’s kinda useless,” Kun says, handing Donghyuck a cup of hot chocolate that he’d apparently made with a secret recipe. “I’ve been to every one of Xuxi’s games for four years, and I still don’t get it.”

 

“That’s cuz you only watch Xuxi,” Jungwoo says, rolling his eyes.

 

“I mean, the rules are pretty simple,” Johnny tries.

 

“It’s only simple to you because you played most of your life,” Kun objects.

 

Taeyong raises an eyebrow at Johnny, clearly impressed. “Did you?”

 

“Ah…” Johnny scratches his neck, cheeks slightly pink. “I mean. Just high school and college. Not a big deal.”

 

“He’s underselling himself. He could have gone pro but he wanted to take over the pack,” Jaehyun says, sipping on his own hot chocolate.

 

“That’s very… altruistic of you,” Taeyong says shyly. “Your partner must be very proud.”

 

Johnny blinks stupidly. “I-I don’t have a partner. I mean. I’m single. No girlfriend. Or boyfriend. Mostly boyfriend.” He furrows his eyebrows, like even he doesn’t understand what he just said. Meanwhile, Taeyong’s shoulders relax a little. “A-and you?”

 

Taeyong waves his hands frantically in front of him. “I’m single! Very… single.”

 

Johnny nods. “Oh. Okay. That’s nice. I mean, it’s not nice, but I mean--”

 

Donghyuck presses his lips together and physically turns his body away, otherwise he might actually scream from embarrassment. He happens to catch Jungwoo’s eye, and they share a look of mutual disgust.

 

“Yes!” Jaehyun yells suddenly, and suddenly the whole stadium is on their feet. Donghyuck gets up in confusion, trying to focus on what’s going on in the game. Vaguely, he notes someone with his school colors running towards the goal post. A few players on the opposing team round on him, and tackle him, but not before he throws the ball, seemingly at random.

 

A figure jumps up to catch the ball, and Donghyuck doesn’t even have to properly look to know who it is. Yukhei secures the ball and runs for his life towards the end zone, dodging everyone in his way, before launching himself onto the grass, rolling on the ground with the ball held firmly to his chest.

 

Distantly, Donghyuck hears their school’s marching band come to life, trumpets blaring and drums hitting in their school’s Fight song, but he’s too busy clapping and staring at Yukhei, who jumps up onto his feet, tossing the ball onto the ground and thumping his chest. It’s an idiotically masculine thing to do, and yet Donghyuck still feels proud. They’re friends, he’s allowed to be proud, right?

 

Soon, the excitement dies down, the teams set up for the next play, and everyone settles back into their seats.

 

“He’s more focused today,” Jaehyun observes.

 

“I think we all know why,” Jungwoo drawls, wiggling his eyebrows in Donghyuck’s direction, and Donghyuck turns his head to see who Jungwoo’s making the face at, but doesn’t notice anyone behind him. Kun slaps Jungwoo’s knee and gives him a warning look.

 

“Why football, anyway?” Donghyuck asks, not liking the sudden looks everyone is giving him.

 

“He likes being part of a team, and it’s a good way to burn off all that extra energy,” Kun says.

 

“When he first came to us, he needed something to focus on. I taught him how to play, and he took to it really quickly,” Johnny adds. Donghyuck frowns.

 

“When he came to you? He wasn’t born into the pack?”

 

Johnny opens his mouth to respond, but Kun turns fully around to pat Donghyuck’s knee gently. “I’m sure Xuxi will tell you when he’s ready. It’s not really our place.”

 

Donghyuck just blinks. He hadn’t been aware Yukhei had some sort of backstory that didn’t involve skating through life with a silver spoon in his mouth. Now that he thinks about it, Yukhei had never mentioned his parents, and they didn’t seem to be a part of his life. Something terrible and sad twists in Donghyuck’s gut when he imagines the possibilities.

 

He mulls over the thought for the rest of the game, the idea that Yukhei has more layers than he shows, and whatever Donghyuck knows about him is just the surface. It bothers him more than he thought, that he doesn’t know Yukhei, not really. But maybe that was Donghyuck’s own fault for never giving him the time of day.

 

And then suddenly, the school’s alma mater song is being played, and everyone on their side of the stadium is cheering as their team stands on the field, helmets off, beaming. Donghyuck glances at the scoreboard to see that they’d won by an embarrassingly large margin, and forces himself to put his brooding thoughts aside.

 

“We’re gonna head back to the reservation,” Kun says, already starting to pack up the blankets. “You guys are going to dinner with Xuxi, right?”

 

Johnny nods looking between Taeyong and Donghyuck. “Is kbbq good with you guys? My treat.”

 

“I knew there was a reason you were my favorite,” Donghyuck says, grinning.

 

“Take it easy, little dude,” Jaehyun says, patting Donghyuck’s shoulder before hopping down a row to help Kun grab his stuff. Jungwoo doesn’t say anything, just winks at Donghyuck before sliding down the row.

 

“It was really nice to meet you, Donghyuck. You should come by the res sometime. I’ll cook for you,” Kun offers, and Donghyuck smiles.

 

“I’d love to,” he says sincerely. He’d only been on the pack reservation a few times in the past for emergencies, and he’d never had a chance to look around. Plus, if Kun’s hot chocolate was any indication, he was probably a spectacular cook. He and Taeyong had spent most of halftime trading recipes.

 

The three men wave and bid them goodnight before heading out. Donghyuck looks at Taeyong, who seems way more relaxed than when they came in, and he’s glad. Taeyong needs more friends, especially since neither he nor Seungwan had heard word from anyone in his coven. Donghyuck can tell it’s eating the vampire alive, and while tonight is definitely a setup, he also wants Taeyong to relax and not worry about anything, if even for a few hours.

 

“Why don’t we see if we can catch Xuxi before he heads to the locker rooms?” Johnny asks, already heading down before Donghyuck can give an answer.

 

As they walk down the bleachers and pass the gate to the field, Donghyuck finds himself kind of nervous, and he doesn’t know why. As the players walk by him, he wrinkles his nose. Body odor is truly the work of the devil.

 

“Guys!”

 

Donghyuck could recognize Yukhei’s deep timbre from miles away, probably. He bounds towards the three of them, helmet in hand, his brunette-blonde hair plastered to his forehead. His eyes are sparkling, and there’s a happy flush to his cheeks. He looks kind of beautiful, and Donghyuck has to blink a few times to get his vision to focus.

 

“Good game, kid,” Johnny says, grabbing Yukhei by the back of his neck and bumping their foreheads together. Yukhei beams happily like a child, before waving at Taeyong. And then he zones in on Donghyuck.

 

“Hi,” he says, voice much quieter this time as he walks right up to Donghyuck. “You wore my jersey.”

 

Donghyuck fights the blush, tugging at the hem. “Well, you asked me to, didn’t you?”

 

“It looks good on you.” Yukhei’s voice sounds kind of weird, so Donghyuck looks up at him.

 

“It looks like I’m wearing a dress,” Donghyuck protests. Yukhei just grins.

 

“Can I hug you?”

 

Donghyuck blinks at him. “What?”

 

“Can I hug you?” Yukhei repeats. “I’m happy you came. And I’m a hugger, so--” he shrugs, and his cheeks seem more flushed than before.

 

Donghyuck looks down the length of Yukhei’s body, covered in dirt and grass stains and sweat. The tight uniform certainly does Yukhei favors, but his elbows are caked with mud and Donghyuck feels like gagging from the smell of sweat. “Take a shower, and then we’ll talk.”

 

Yukhei sticks out his bottom lip in his classic pout. “But that could take ages.

 

“Well, I’m not going anywhere, am I?”

 

“Xuxi, before you go, I wanna get a photo,” Taeyong says, already taking out his phone. “Joohyun will wanna see this.”

 

“I don’t think--” Donghyuck starts, but Yukhei’s already slinging an arm around his shoulder and bringing him close.

 

“So cute,” Taeyong coos, taking what feels like forever to take the picture. Donghyuck manages to throw up a peace sign before the flash goes off.

 

“Send it to me, Taeyong?” Yukhei asks. Taeyong nods and grins, with Johnny hovering over his shoulder to look at the picture. Yukhei tugs at Donghyuck’s sleeve. “I’ll be right back,” he promises, before bolting out of the stadium exit.

 

“Lemme see,” Donghyuck says, walking up to Taeyong and peering at the phone screen.

 

“You guys are so adorable,” Taeyong says, handing Donghyuck the phone so he can take a closer look. A strange, warm feeling bubbles up in his chest, looking at the two of them together. Their height difference is truly hilarious, and Yukhei looks every bit the bubbly popular jock, while Donghyuck looks like he walked out of the depths of hell. And yet… it kinda fits. It’s kinda cute.

 

“Hm,” he says instead, handing the phone back. Taeyong gives him a knowing look. Joohyun Part Two, indeed. Johnny sends Yukhei a text to meet them in the parking lot, and they set off in the direction of the car.

 

It’s bitterly cold, and both Johnny and Taeyong have opted to sit inside with the heating on, but Donghyuck stands outside, with his hands shoved into his pockets, rocking on his heels. It helps with the weird nerves zinging in his blood today.

 

“Donghyuck!” Yukhei yells out, and Donghyuck startles, turning towards the sound of his voice. Yukhei’s in jeans and a sweater with the school’s logo emblazoned on it, his hair wet and flopping into his eyes, and he’s running right at him--

 

Oof-- ” Donghyuck grunts, when Yukhei wraps arms around him and picks him up off the ground like he weighs nothing. “Yuk- hei--”

 

“I smell nice so I can hug you now!” Yukhei sings, face pressed into Donghyuck’s chest, rocking them back and forth, and Donghyuck flops like a rag doll, barely managing to wrap his arms around Yukhei’s shoulders so he doesn’t slip.

 

“Can’t-- breathe-- ” Donghyuck chokes out, looking to Taeyong for help, but gets only an amused grin. “ Yukhei--

 

“Oh! Sorry!” Yukhei says, putting Donghyuck on his feet. Donghyuck clutches his chest and wheezes, dizzy from the lack of oxygen and also the smell of Yukhei’s shampoo and cologne. Yukhei pats Donghyuck’s shoulders helplessly. “I’m just really happy.”

 

“Do you make a habit of choking people out when you’re happy?” Donghyuck asks, once he’s sure he can feel his ribs again. Yukhei smiles sheepishly, but Donghyuck can’t bring himself to say that he didn’t actually mind it that much.

 

“Guys, we should get to the restaurant,” Johnny calls out from Taeyong’s open window.

 

“Kbbq time!” Yukhei cheers, picking his giant gym bag off the floor where he’d apparently dropped it to grab Donghyuck instead. He hops into the back seat, and Donghyuck’s hope that Yukhei will sit on the other side is dashed when he climbs in after, only to see Yukhei putting on the seatbelt in the middle seat.

 

“What did you think of the game?” Yukhei asks, after they’ve merged into traffic.

 

“Uh…” Donghyuck hadn’t paid much attention except at the very beginning. “It was very… athletic.”

 

“You don’t know anything about football, do you,” Yukhei says more than asks. Donghyuck shoots finger guns at him. “You should have asked Johnny to explain.”

 

“Oh no, trust me, he tried,” Donghyuck says. “Then he started talking about penalties, so I zoned out, and--” he motions for Yukhei to lean in closer so he can whisper, “Taeyong sneezed like ten seconds later and Johnny’s brain melted.”

 

Yukhei’s answering grin is big and blinding. “He has it that bad, huh?”

 

“You’re lucky you missed the whole Oh I don’t have a boyfriend, do you have a boyfriend? conversation. That’s truly something I wish I could erase from my memory.” Yukhei snorts.

 

“I can’t even remember the last time Johnny went on a date,” Yukhei admits. They both eye the adults in the front, so immersed in a quiet conversation that they don’t notice anything else.

 

“I haven’t known Taeyong very long but I doubt he’s ever been on a date, period.” Yukhei snorts, taking out his phone to check his messages. Donghyuck takes that as the cue that this conversation is over, and it’s almost strangely disappointing. He sort of wants to slap himself for being so contradictory today. It would be nice to just consistently dislike Yukhei and not act like an idiot with a crush, wanting Yukhei’s constant attention.

 

Donghyuck unlocks his own phone and checks the group chat, grinning at the picture of a beaming Jeno with Renjun and Jaemin kissing his cheeks. He sighs wistfully, wishing for the millionth time in his life that he wasn’t doomed to fourth-wheel his friends.

 

“That’s a cute picture,” Yukhei says, and Donghyuck startles and drops his phone. Yukhei huffs a laugh and leans down to grab it for him.

 

“You were snooping,” Donghyuck says, snatching his phone back.

 

“I just happened to see your screen. It’s not like I saw anything bad,” Yukhei says, wearing that stupid pout again. Donghyuck rolls his eyes and goes back to idly scrolling through the chat because he has nothing better to do. “Hey, Hyuck.” Donghyuck glares at Yukhei, who angles his phone so Donghyuck can see it. “Have you seen this meme?”

 

It’s a Pepe Reasons to Live meme, with a picture of Kevin Abstract badly photoshopped to it. In total disbelief, Donghyuck looks at Yukhei, who’s muffling his giggles into his sweater paw. “I mean… I’ve seen different versions of it?”

 

“Okay but what about this--” Yukhei swipes on the next picture, of Salt Bae.

 

“That’s a super old meme, I saw that on twitter like two years ago.”

 

Yukhei puts his phone down and looks at him with large, earnest eyes. “You have a twitter?”

 

Donghyuck thinks about every emo thing he’d said about TLC’s discography and the ultra gay Mark subtweets that he’d yet to delete. He blinks and turns his head forward. “No, I don’t have a twitter.”

 

“Yes you do, you just said--”

 

“I deleted it a long time ago!” Donghyuck tries, but Yukhei just narrows his eyes and pokes Donghyuck’s side.

 

“You’re lying. I’m gonna find your twitter.”

 

Donghyuck lets out a slightly hysterical laugh, lunging for Yukhei’s phone. “No the fuck you’re not--”

 

“Language!” Taeyong chides from the front, and of course, that’s the one thing in this whole conversation he’d heard. “Settle down back there, please.”

 

Yukhei holds his phone far out of Donghyuck’s reach, and it’s grossly unfair how long his limbs are and how useful it is in this situation. Donghyuck huffs and sits back in his spot, crossing his arms and frowning.

 

“Hey,” Yukhei tries, poking Donghyuck’s arm. He ignores it, staring at the traffic out the window. “Donghyuck--” Silence. “Duckie--” Yukhei whines in a disgustingly cute voice.

 

“What?” Donghyuck snaps, sheer annoyance bleeding into his voice.

 

“Are you mad at me?”

 

Donghyuck rolls his eyes. “What do you think?”

 

Yukhei pouts (he’s been doing it often, as if he knows Donghyuck will cave whenever he does that). “I won’t look for your twitter if you don’t want me to.”

 

“It’s whatever,” Donghyuck sniffs. He clicks his tongue when Yukhei pokes his cheek.

 

“Turn that frown upside down, mister!”

 

Donghyuck hates that his lips twitch up at that. “Shut up.”

 

My laaaddyyy--” Yukhei sings, horribly off-key at the top of his lungs, and Donghyuck snorts, shoving at him.

 

“What the hell are you even saying--

 

Yukhei laughs, not budging in the slightest while Donghyuck tries his best to push him over. Eventually, Donghyuck gives up, huffing and crossing his arms again, but his cheeks hurt from smiling. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Yukhei looking at him with a foolish look on his face. “Stop looking at me,” he says.

 

“I’m not looking at you,” Yukhei says, his grin full and blinding.

 

Stop it,” Donghyuck whines, using his hand to try and shield his face from Yukhei’s gaze.

 

“Settle down, you two,” Taeyong warns again, and Donghyuck bites down the protest that it’s all Yukhei’s fault. Instead, he just fixes his gaze out the window and tries not to laugh.

 

 

“I’m hungry, ” Yukhei whines, shuffling his feet.

 

Donghyuck glares at him. “You said that. Ten times.”

 

“But I’m hungry,” he says again, flapping his sweater paws around as they wait to be seated. The kbbq place they came to is packed, but Johnny had pulled some strings for a reservation, and they’ll be seated any moment, but Yukhei can’t stop complaining, and Donghyuck sort of wants to stab him in the throat with a chopstick.

 

“Relax, Xuxi,” Johnny says, patting him on the shoulder. Before Yukhei can make his state of hunger known yet again, the waitress comes up to them and leads them to their table.

 

Sensing an opportunity, Donghyuck latches onto Yukhei’s. “I’m gonna sit with Yukhei!” he announces.

 

“But--” Taeyong starts, his cheeks already starting to flush.

 

“You old people can just talk about old people things,” Donghyuck says with a dismissive wave. He nudges Yukhei, who’s frozen in place and staring at Donghyuck’s hands. “Right? ” he grits.

 

Yukhei blinks owlishly. “Uh. Correct.”

 

“Useless,” Donghyuck mutters under his breath, tugging Yukhei towards their side of the table. Johnny orders several types of meat to start, and Donghyuck pours them all water before they settle, except for Yukhei, who can’t stop tapping his legs impatiently against the floor.

 

By the time the brisket comes, Yukhei’s eaten most of the salad, all of the fishcake and kimchi, and is making a dent in the pickled radish. Donghyuck almost feels sorry for him; just looking at Yukhei is making him hungry by association.

 

Taeyong takes over the grill with a stern look at Johnny, and cooks the brisket quickly. Yukhei’s eyes are kind of glowing when Taeyong puts his portion of meat on his plate. Donghyuck watches Yukhei shove all the meat into his mouth with a giant bite of rice and chews happily. When he’s swallowed down all his meat though, he’s back to tapping his feet on the ground and bouncing in place, eyes scanning over the side dishes like he’s deciding what to inhale next.

 

“Oh for god’s sake,” Donghyuck groans, fed up, and takes all of his own portion and dumps it on Yukhei’s plate. Yukhei stops what he’s doing to look at Donghyuck with wide, stunned eyes.

 

“What are you--”

 

“You’re way hungrier than I am,” Donghyuck says, feeling the heat creep up his neck.

 

“But--”

 

“I’m not the one who looks like he’ll die before the bulgogi cooks. So just eat already,” Donghyuck snaps, grabbing some macaroni salad and shoving it into his mouth so he doesn’t have to make eye contact.

 

“Donghyuck…” Out of the corner of his eyes, Donghyuck can see Yukhei’s lip wobbling dangerously, and he groans.

 

“Don’t start crying just cuz I gave you brisket,” he protests. Yukhei’s eyes are suspiciously foggy as he reaches over and wraps Donghyuck in another bone-crushing hug.

 

“You’re the bestest person in the whole world,” Yukhei says into Donghyuck’s hair, giving him one final squeeze before proceeding to inhale everything in under a minute. He flashes Donghyuck a thumbs up with his mouth full, and Donghyuck gives him a disgusted look in response, trying to get his heart rate back to normal.

 

Dinner goes by that way, Donghyuck giving Yukhei every other portion of his meat, and Yukhei looks on the verge of tears every time. Shockingly enough, even with all of the extra servings, Yukhei continues eating, even after everyone else has tapped out.

 

“Dude,” Donghyuck says, watching Yukhei finish his third steak.

 

“When we take Xuxi to kbbq we always get our money’s worth,” Johnny says with a laugh. He and Taeyong had shared a bottle of yogurt soju, and with their accelerated metabolism, it’s almost impossible to get drunk, but they’ve relaxed a lot more. Johnny has his arm slung casually around the back of Taeyong’s chair, and Taeyong smiles more openly at Johnny. Despite observing Yukhei’s gross lack of table manners, Donghyuck considers tonight to have gone rather successfully.

 

Yukhei just grins happily. “I like meat,” he says as an explanation. Donghyuck’s face twists in distaste. This is the guy he’s starting to form a big fat crush on? The universe is looking down on him and laughing, probably.

 

Eventually, Yukhei decides he’s also reached his limit (Donghyuck didn’t think he’d ever stop), and Johnny gets the bill. The drive home is predictably silent, and Yukhei just pats his stomach with sleepy satisfaction, not feeling the need to say anything.

 

They pull up in front of Donghyuck’s house in a few minutes, and Joohyun’s already standing in the doorway with a smile when Donghyuck hops out of the car.

 

“Did you have fun?” she asks with a knowing smile.

 

“It was awesome!” Yukhei says before Donghyuck can even say a word. They climb up the porch together, and turn around to watch Johnny and Taeyong exchanging phone numbers shyly.

 

“What did you do?” Joohyun asks, eyes narrowed.

 

Donghyuck grins. “Think of me as a catalyst. An enzyme, if you will.” Joohyun just snorts and shakes her head.

 

“Donghyuck is super smart,” Yukhei says emphatically. “He’s always--” He taps his temple with his finger and wiggles his eyebrows.

 

Joohyun shoots Donghyuck an amused smile. “He’s definitely goal-oriented.”

 

“Hey, Joohyun,” Johnny says finally, walking Taeyong up. They’re wearing matching blushes.

 

“Alpha Seo. Thanks for taking care of them tonight.”

 

Johnny waves his hand dismissively, laughing. “It was my pleasure. I’d love to do it again sometime.”

 

Joohyun just smiles knowingly. “Goodnight then. Get home safe,” she says, before stepping inside the house.

 

Taeyong lingers at the doorway. “Goodnight guys--” His gaze lingers on Johnny’s face. “Johnny.”

 

“Sweet dreams, Taeyong,” Johnny says dreamily. Yukhei makes a truly stupid face from where he’d moved to stand behind Johnny, and Donghyuck has to glare at him to get him to cut it out.

 

When Taeyong disappears, Johnny sighs. “Alright little man, we’re gonna get going. There’s another game in two weeks if you’re down. And Kun will definitely want you over for dinner.”

 

Donghyuck grins. “Sounds good.” He raises his eyebrow in confusion when Yukhei suddenly turns shy, tugging at Johnny’s sleeve.

 

“No, you can ask him,” Johnny murmurs. He and Yukhei exchange a series of looks, before Yukhei steps out from behind Johnny hesitantly. Johnny smiles at Donghyuck teasingly. “Yukhei has something he wants to ask you.”

 

Donghyuck looks at Yukhei expectantly. “What is it?”

 

“Uh…” Yukhei turns around to look at Johnny with a pleading look. Johnny just shakes his head and throws up a peace sign, heading for the car. “Uh,” Yukhei says again, now looking at Donghyuck from under his bangs.

 

“I’m sorry, I don’t speak that language,” Donghyuck snarks, feeling his heart start to beat a little faster.

 

“Uhm. Next week is like this thing. Like. Where the pack goes out. And like. We shift into our wolf forms, right?” Yukhei starts. “Anyways it’s like a super fun thing. I was wondering you wanted to like, come.”

 

“Yukhei, I hate to break this to you, but I’m not a werewolf.”

 

“I know that! I mean. Yeah duh, but like. It’s cool to see, and it could be super fun. I promise I’ll make it fun! If you wanna come.” Yukhei looks at him with those stupidly earnest eyes, like he’s bracing himself for a rejection. Donghyuck is an idiot, and he has no spine.

 

“Uh. Sounds like fun, I guess.”

 

Yukhei seems to glow ten times brighter. “Really?”

 

Donghyuck feels the heat on his cheeks. “Yeah sure. I mean, I have to ask my mom but like, I don’t think it’ll be a problem, I guess.”

 

“Cool! Nice! Yeah, cool!” Yukhei says, then hesitates, like he hadn’t thought ahead to this point. “Okay, yeah. I’m gonna go then.”

 

“Yeah, sure.”

 

“Uhm,” Yukhei hesitates, before striding forward to hug Donghyuck again. Donghyuck’s face gets smooshed into the fabric of Yukhei’s hoodie, and he feels Yukhei’s nose in his hair. “Thanks again for coming. It means a lot,” he mumbles, before stepping away and sprinting away towards the car.

 

“Good night!” Yukhei hollers from out the window, and Donghyuck can only roll his eyes and wave, stunned speechless.

 

He stands outside until Johnny’s SUV disappears around the corner, before sighing and heading inside. Donghyuck bounds up the stairs, two at a time, filled with a weird kind of energy. He sniffs tentatively at his clothes, and cringes at the smell of meat grease and smoke, so he takes a quick shower and goes through his skincare routine before plopping into bed with his phone, feeling calm and settled.

 

The peace is short-lived.

 

00 line bitches

 

nana: [1 Image Attached]

nana: EWGHUERLKS;GHDIOPERSGKDJ

moomin: jfgshskdjlfgdfgkxcmhdsfgkx

no fun: rioewhgpsdklerighkdgksdjsdjksalakalall

 

Donghyuck jerks upright, staring at the photo Taeyong took of him and Yukhei at the game.

 

duckie: WHAT THE FUCK

duckie: WHERE DID YOU GET THAT

nana: ty send it to ur mom who sent it to yeri who sent it to ME and i am now doing gods work by distributing it to everyone else !

moomin: YOU DIDNT TELL US YOU AND YUKHEI WERE DATING??????

duckie: i dunno what kinda crack ur on but we’re NOT dating ??? why does us taking ONE PIC tgt mean we’re dating??

no fun: dude

nana: dude

moomin: dude

duckie: WHAT

no fun: dude ur wearing his j e r s ey

duckie: SO WHAT

nana: dude

moomin: dude

duckie: STOP DOING THAT

no fun: dude

no fun: ugh it sent late

moomin: do u know what it MEANS to wear some1’s jersey at a game ?????

duckie: it means ur FAMILY AND FRIENDS im FAMILY AND FRIENDS

moomin: idiot

no fun: dude it means ur a couple!!! in hs players only give their jerseys to their gfs/bfs lmao

 

Donghyuck blinks down at the screen, rereading the words until they process in his brain.

 

duckie: well YUKHEI SAID it was a FAMILY AND FRIENDS THING

nana: were any of his friends n family wearing his jersey

duckie: no…….

duckie: BUT WHY WOULD YUKHEI LIE

moomin: well its either 1) he’s an idiot just like you or 2) he’s trying to stealth date u

no fun: im gonna go with option 2

nana: i concur

duckie: HE IS NOT

duckie: IM GONNA KILL HIM

moomin: you should just ask him

duckie: u know what!!! i will!!! and u morons can EAT UR WORDS!!!!!

no fun: don’t forget to invite us to the wedding!

 

Donghyuck muffles a scream into his fist before hurriedly dialing Yukhei’s number.

 

“Donghyuck?” Yukhei’s voice comes out kind of muffled, like he’d been sleeping before Donghyuck woke him up with the phone call, but he can’t bring himself to feel guilty. “What’s up?”

 

“What’s up? I’m planning your assassination, that’s what’s up!”

 

“... What did I do this time?”

 

Donghyuck pinches the bridge of his nose in annoyance. “Are you or are you not aware that only girlfriends or boyfriends wear jerseys to games.”

 

There’s silence for a bit, and the sounds of muffled shuffling. “I mean…”

 

“So you did know--”

 

“It doesn’t have to be like that! It’s not like an official thing, don’t take it seriously.” Donghyuck can hear Yukhei pouting over the line.

 

“You’re seriously the worst,” Donghyuck groans, flopping down onto his bed.

 

“Will you wear it to another game?” Yukhei asks carefully. All the annoyance bleeds out of Donghyuck's body as he turns on his side, putting the call on speakerphone.

 

“Yeah, whatever.”

 

“Cool,” Yukhei says, with a deep chuckle that shouldn’t be attractive, but it sends a shiver down Donghyuck’s spine.

 

“Were you sleeping before I called?”

 

“I was trying but failing, so it’s chill.”

 

Donghyuck frowns. “You had a long day, shouldn’t you be tired?”

 

“I mean, I guess, but like. I just have a lot on my mind these days, so it’s hard.”

 

That stirs up an unfamiliar sense of worry in Donghyuck’s gut. “What are you thinking about?”

 

Yukhei sighs deeply, and if Donghyuck closes his eyes, it almost feels like Yukhei is lying down beside him. And then he smacks his face, embarrassed that such a ridiculous thought even crossed his mind. “The whole Hunter thing, mostly. I’m worried about you. Worried I won’t be able to protect you.”

 

Something sharp twists in Donghyuck’s chest, and the force of knocks him breathless. Yukhei’s usually honest, but not this brutally so. Maybe it’s the exhaustion and being on the brink of sleep that makes Yukhei say those things, but exhaustion usually makes people more honest, and Donghyuck doesn’t know if that’s a good or bad thing.

 

“I can--”

 

“Take care of yourself, yeah, yeah, I know. But I still wanna be there too. To help.”

 

Donghyuck bites his lip. “Well, you can, if you want to.”

 

“I do.” Donghyuck hums, picking at a loose thread on his blanket and trying to get his heart to calm down. “Hey, Duckie. You have a really pretty voice, did you know that?”

 

Donghyuck huffs a laugh, blushing and glad Yukhei can’t see him. “Really?”

 

“Mhm. Sounds nice when you’re using it for good instead of evil.”

 

Donghyuck fake gasps. “Me? Evil? I would never.”

 

Yukhei laughs, and it’s punctuated by a yawn. It’s sickeningly adorable. “Yeah, you’re right. You’re too cute to be evil.”

 

Donghyuck is stunned into silence for a minute. He doesn’t know how to respond to something like that. He’s been called cute before, but somehow this feels completely different. But before he can ask what Yukhei means, he hears cute snuffling on the other end of the line.

 

“Yukhei?” Donghyuck says quietly. There isn’t much of a response, save for more snuffling. “Cute,” he huffs, feeling a fond smile tugging at his lips. “Good night, Xuxi,” he says softly, before ending the call.



Chapter Text

“Donghyuck, Donghyuck!”

 

Donghyuck suppresses a small groan, smacking his forehead against the flimsy metal of the locker next to his, before pasting a smile on his face and turning. “Hello, Yukhei.”

 

Yukhei skids to a stop in front of him, hair windblown like he’d run across campus to find Donghyuck. His eyes are bright and sparkly and Donghyuck tries desperately not to lose himself in them. “I made a thing.”

 

Donghyuck blinks at him. “A thing?” He goes cross-eyed as Yukhei shoves his phone screen directly into his face. “Dude--” Donghyuck clicks his tongue and grabs the phone out of Yukhei’s hands, putting it a reasonable distance away so he can actually see what’s on the screen.

 

CgOpO2e_

 

He looks up at Yukhei, trying valiantly to hold back a giggle. “How long did it take you to make this?”

 

Yukhei flashes one of his trademark sheepish smiles. “Longer than it should have, probably. But it looks legit, right?”

 

“A plus for effort,” Donghyuck says, lips twitching up as he hands Yukhei’s phone back and turns towards his locker. This whole week Yukhei had put more effort into out-memeing Donghyuck than he probably should have. But it’s okay. It’s not like Donghyuck is actually complaining. It’s cute. Sort of. Maybe.

 

“Listen, I was thinking--” Yukhei starts, leaning his body against the lockers in that effortlessly relaxed way of his.

 

“Donghyuck!”

 

Donghyuck startles at the sound of his name (being yelled once again ) and whips around to see Mark jogging up to them. From beside him, Yukhei tenses visibly.

 

“Donghyuck, glad I could catch you before you left,” Mark says, before nodding in Yukhei’s direction. “‘Sup, dude?”

 

“Mark,” Yukhei says, and maybe Donghyuck’s just been spending way too much time around Yukhei, but his voice sounds off. Mark’s gaze refocuses on Donghyuck quickly, and he flashes a bashful smile.

 

“Did you need something, Mark?” Donghyuck asks quietly. It feels like eons ago now, the time when Mark’s presence would made Donghyuck’s heart race. Now, there’s nothing but slight apprehension.

 

“Ah, no I just…” Mark scratches the back of his head, before casting Yukhei a wary glance. “I was just wondering if you were free this weekend?” He shuffles his feet, his ears turning red. “We haven’t hung out in a while, so…”

 

“Oh…” Donghyuck doesn’t know why he looks at Yukhei right then, but he does, and he kinda regrets it, because Yukhei’s frown throws him more off-kilter. “I actually… I have a thing,” he babbles. He’s supposed to sleep over the whole weekend at Yukhei’s house, but he doesn’t think that’s a relevant detail right now.

 

Mark blinks at him, like it’s not the response he was expecting. “A thing…”

 

Now it’s Donghyuck’s turn to shuffle his feet nervously. “Yeah…”

 

“Oh, okay,” Mark says, a tell-tale slump to his shoulders.

 

Donghyuck feels the guilt and apprehension twist in his gut like a knife. He’s not used to having to blatantly reject people like this-- despite his natural abundance of charms, it’s not like he has a line of suitors waiting for a chance to sweep him off his feet.

 

“I mean… maybe another time? I’m just like… really busy right now, that’s all,” Donghyuck blurts. He hates that kicked-puppy look on Mark’s face. He’s not crushing on Mark anymore, but he still hates being the reason for someone looking so disappointed.

 

Mark seems to lighten up considerably at that. “Yeah, for sure. Another time. Just let me know.”

 

“I will,” Donghyuck promises, even though it’s a lie.

 

“I’ll uh… see you later than?” Mark adjusts the straps of his backpack.

 

“For sure,” Donghyuck says, flashing a small smile. Mark nods at Yukhei, before turning on his heels and heading down the halls again. The moment he’s out of earshot, Donghyuck leans back against the lockers with a groan.

 

“Why did you tell him you could hang out later?” Yukhei asks. Donghyuck turns his head with his eyebrow raised. Yukhei’s entire face has turned dark with a scowl, and it just doesn’t look right. “You can’t.”

 

“I was just trying to make him feel better,” Donghyuck says, shoulders hunching in defense, though he doesn’t know why. He turns around again and looks over the contents of his locker, trying to remember if he needs any textbooks over the weekend.

 

“Do you or do you not remember what he said to you before you wiped his memory?” Yukhei asks, and his voice has gone scarily low. Donghyuck shoots him an annoyed look, shoving his Government textbook into his bag.

 

“Loud and clear, chief,” Donghyuck snaps with a scowl. “But he doesn’t remember any of it so I’m trying not to be an asshole here, okay? I’d rather not have him hate me.”

 

“Why does it matter what he thinks of you?” Yukhei asks, straightening up as Donghyuck slams his locker shut.

 

“It doesn’t, he just--” Donghyuck doesn’t really have the words to vocalize himself, but Yukhei takes the silence as an answer to his question. He turns on his heel and strides away, towards the doors.

 

Donghyuck frowns, because what the hell? “Hey-- Yukhei--” He has to sprint to catch up with Yukhei’s wide strides. “What’s up your ass?”

 

“Nothing,” Yukhei says, but he’s still scowling, taking steps that take Donghyuck two of his own to try and match. Yukhei digs his car keys out of his pocket as they get closer to the parking lot, but Donghyuck grabs his wrist before Yukhei can press the unlock button.

 

“No, you’re clearly upset about something, so what’s up?” Donghyuck asks, searching Yukhei’s face carefully. His cheeks are kind of red, and Yukhei’s not making eye contact.

 

“I told you it’s nothing,” Yukhei mumbles, now sheepish.

 

“No, it’s not. I’ve never seen you so pissed off, so what gives?” Donghyuck doesn’t know what happened to Yukhei, but he doesn’t like it one bit. Obviously Donghyuck did something, and the idea that he made Yukhei upset doesn’t sit well with him. “Yukhei,” he tries again, more gentle this time. That obviously does the trick, because all the tension bleeds away and Yukhei’s shoulders slump.

 

“I just… I don’t like Mark, okay? I don’t like how he treated you,” he mumbles, avoiding Donghyuck’s gaze.

 

“And?” Donghyuck pries, because there’s definitely more.

 

Yukhei kicks at a rock on the ground. “You’re being nice to him. He clearly has a crush on you… and…”

 

Donghyuck’s eyebrows shoot up. “Do you think I’m gonna try and date him again?” Yukhei’s cheeks flush, and that’s as good as an answer. “Because that’s not gonna happen.”

 

Yukhei glances at Donghyuck out of the corner of his eye. “Are you sure?”

 

Donghyuck snorts, dropping his grip on Yukhei’s wrist. “Duh. Dating a human is not a thing that I plan on repeating,” he promises. “I need me a supernatural mans,” Donghyuck jokes with a wiggle of his eyebrows.

 

A ghost of a smile appears on Yukhei’s lips, and it’s more relieving than Donghyuck anticipated. “I’m a supernatural mans.”

 

Donghyuck raises a judgemental eyebrow. “I wouldn’t call someone who still watches Spongebob a man, but go off I guess.”

 

Yukhei splutters indignantly. “It’s a show for intellectuals!”

 

Donghyuck rolls his eyebrows, starting to walk towards Yukhei’s truck. “You keep saying that but there’s no evidence.” Yukhei makes an indignant noise, before catching up with Donghyuck quickly. “But I just wanna clarify,” Donghyuck says, tugging at Yukhei’s sleeve to make him turn and face Donghyuck. “I don’t have feelings for Mark. Like. The amount of like for him is at zero. Maybe negative.”

 

Yukhei’s eyes are unreadable as he stares down at Donghyuck. “Okay,” he says, after a few seconds. “Let’s go get Starbucks,” he says, before walking over to the driver’s side. Donghyuck blinks at him.

 

“That’s it?” Donghyuck asks. Yukhei raises an eyebrow at him over the hood of the truck.

 

“Yeah? Do you want Starbucks or not?”

 

Donghyuck clicks his tongue, scrambling to get into the passenger seat. “Just don’t make me try that stupid pink drink you always get.”

 

“For the last time, it’s an acai refresher with coconut milk--”

 

“Which is basically just water, except you’re paying four dollars for it--”

 

“Well you’re not the one paying, so why are you complaining?”

 

Donghyuck blinks at Yukhei. “Point.”

 

 

“Whoa,” is the only thing Donghyuck can think to say as Yukhei drives through the wraught-iron gates that protect the Reserve from unwanted visitors.

 

“You’ve never been?” Yukhei asks. Donghyuck takes everything in with wide eyes through the glass of the window.

 

“I mean I have, but it’s usually for like, emergencies, you know? Not a lot of time for appreciating the scenery.”

 

The Reserve is several acres of untouched forest on the outskirts of town. It’s allegedly been around for centuries, resisting urbanization mostly due to a group of extremely stubborn druids whose children continue to be part of the city’s urban planning committee.

 

It’s home to most of Johnny’s pack, a few lone shifters, and some forest fairies who rarely come out these days. Donghyuck had been inside only a few times when he was younger, for emergency healing purposes. Entering the Reserve for fun puts a completely different lens on the situation.

 

“This is so cool,” Donghyuck murmurs as Yukhei guides the truck down a worn but rocky path. Now it kinda makes sense why most of the pack seemed to have big, obnoxious cars; Donghyuck can’t imagine a Fiat making it twenty feet past the thick of trees.

 

It feels a little surreal, driving through a thick forest with DPR Live playing bass-boosted out of Yukhei’s stereo-system, but Donghyuck figures it’s poetic, sort of. They pull up in front of a sprawling three-story house with a wrap-around porch. There are a few other houses, equally as large, spread over a good distance, but it seems like this house is like the epicenter, and everything else was built around it.

 

Kun walks out of the house and waves to them from the doorway. “Donghyuck, good to see you again,” he says when Donghyuck hops out.

 

“You too,” he says, beaming, because Donghyuck likes Kun so he’s gonna be on his best behavior for the next couple days.

 

“What the hell did you pack,” Yukhei asks with a grunt, hauling the suitcase Donghyuck packed from the bed of the truck onto the ground.

 

“Only the essentials,” Donghyuck says defensively, slinging his backpack over his shoulders. So what if he was slightly high-maintenance? He bounds up the steps and gives Kun a hug.

 

“I hope you brought an appetite because I cooked way too much,” Kun says, leading Donghyuck inside with his arm around his shoulders. Donghyuck turns his head to stick his tongue out at Yukhei, who’s clearly given up not using his werewolf strength to lift Donghyuck’s stuff and is hauling it up with one hand.

 

“Do you need any help?” Donghyuck asks, taking in the bright, open foyer. It looks like something out of a summer home catalog; the walls are painted white, and the furniture is all blues and pastels. It’s a far cry from the dark wood and old, mismatched furniture of Donghyuck’s home, but they both have their charm.

 

“I think I’ll be okay, but you and Xuxi can help set the table later,” Kun says. “Johnny’ll be home in a couple hours, and then we’ll eat.” With a cheerful smile, Kun pats Donghyuck’s shoulder and disappears down the hall, supposedly into the kitchen.

 

“Your house is super nice,” Donghyuck remarks, following Yukhei up the stairs.

 

“Kun’s really into interior design,” Yukhei says.

 

“Is your room gonna be the same?” Donghyuck asks, and Yukhei shoots him a wry smile as they walk down the hall.

 

“Kun tried, but it just couldn’t be salvaged.” They arrive at in front of a door painted an almost turquoise blue, with Yukhei’s name spelled out with wooden letters painted white.

 

“Aesthetic,” Donghyuck murmurs in appreciation, before Yukhei opens the door. His room isn’t as bad as Donghyuck had imagined, but maybe that’s because Yukhei purposely cleaned up. It’s a wide open space, with a big bed in one corner, a desk, a case full of trophies, and a bookshelf cluttered with knick knacks and photo frames. It’s cute and very Yukhei.

 

“So?” Yukhei asks, like he’s holding his breath.

 

“I like it,” Donghyuck says, though he’s not entirely sure why Yukhei is looking at him like he needs Donghyuck’s approval.

 

“There’s a guest room next door, if you wanna look--”

 

“But where’s the fun in that?” Donghyuck asks, jumping onto the middle of Yukhei’s pseudo-made bed and grinning. “It’s a sleepover, isn’t it?” He’s used to cramming himself into Jeno’s bed with three other people and waking up with Jaemin’s foot dangerously close to his neck or Renjun snoring in his ear.

 

Yukhei grins. “True.” He sets Donghyuck’s suitcase against the wall and joins Donghyuck on the bed, flopping onto his back next to Donghyuck, before staring up at him imploringly. “So, what do you wanna do until dinner?”

 

“Why do I have to make the hard decisions around here?”

 

“Well, you’re my guest,” Yukhei says seriously. Donghyuck snorts, dropping down next to Yukhei and turning his head so they’re mirroring each other.

 

“I have all the supplies for after dinner, but I dunno what to do before.”

 

Yukhei raises an eyebrow. “Supplies?”

 

Donghyuck rolls his eyes. “Face masks, nail polish, the works. We gotta do something about those gigantic pores,” he says, slapping his hand on Yukhei’s face and pulling at the skin around his nose. “You should be arrested for this.”

 

“I don’t know anything about skincare,” Yukhei says sheepishly. Donghyuck gasps in horror. “I cleanse twice a day though. With whatever Kun gives me to use.”

 

Donghyuck rubs his temples. “Okay, so we’re not starting from rock bottom, that’s a relief, at least.” He motions to his own face. “But if you wanna look this fabulous, we have a long way to go.”

 

“I’ll put the future of my skin in your hands, Jedi Master,” Yukhei says in mock seriousness, and Donghyuck huffs out a laugh. He turns to stare at the ceiling, and the next few minutes are filled with a comfortable silence, which he didn’t think could exist with Yukhei, but it’s surprisingly pleasant.

 

“We could watch a movie, come up with a prank for Johnny, have a tickle fight….” Yukhei says after a while. He shoots Donghyuck a sneaky look.

 

“Don’t even think about it,” Donghyuck warns, his heart suddenly beating faster.

 

“Oh, so you are ticklish,” Yukhei says, sitting up slowly.

 

“I’m not, and I don’t want you to even try-- ” Donghyuck screeches as Yukhei launches himself at him, and his reflexes are quick enough that he can roll away. He gets to his feet quickly. “Yukhei, you’re making a mistake--”

 

Yukhei gets up too, wiggling his fingers menacingly. “Am I, though?”

 

“I’ll kill you,” Donghyuck warns, eyeing the door. Yukhei seems to take note of his plan, so Donghyuck grabs a pillow from the bed and throws it at Yukhei’s face to distract him before bolting for the door. He runs down the stairs, screaming at the top of his lungs, and he can hear Yukhei not far behind.

 

He runs blindly down the halls, and finds himself in the kitchen. Kun looks up at him in alarm, and Donghyuck shoots him a guilty smile. Yukhei rounds the corner and they end up running around the kitchen island several times until Kun kicks them out, and Yukhei chases Donghyuck into what seems like a giant living room.

 

“You’ll never take me ali--” Donghyuck groans when Yukhei slams him down onto one of the (thankfully) soft couches, fingers digging into Donghyuck’s sides.

 

“Gotcha,” Yukhei says, and Donghyuck can hear him grinning, but it doesn’t really register when he’s screeching and trying desperately to get away from Yukhei’s fingers.

 

“No no no no no--” Donghyuck wails, his face smashed into a decorative pillow as he writhes in pain and hysterical giggles.

 

“Say Yukhei is the most handsome person ever and I’ll let you go,” Yukhei taunts, one of his hands moving up to Donghyuck’s neck, and the volume of screams grow louder.

 

I cannot-- tell-- lies-- ” Donghyuck wheezes, managing to wiggle out just enough to get the upper hand and twist their bodies around so Donghyuck ends up on top of Yukhei.

 

Kun finds them like that, with Yukhei in a tight headlock and Donghyuck rubbing his knuckles into his head. He raises a single eyebrow and crosses his arms, looking the perfect picture of parental disapproval. “Is there a less… dangerous activity you guys could be doing?” he asks.

 

Donghyuck laughs sheepishly, letting Yukhei go, who flops down onto the couch, coughing and gasping for breath. “Sorry,” he says, pinching Yukhei’s side to get him to mumble out his own apology.

 

Once Kun leaves, Donghyuck flops down on the couch next to Yukhei and takes a deep breath. There’s sweat on his temples from the exertion, and he hasn’t quite caught his breath.

 

“Dude, I could have died,” Yukhei complains, clutching his throat. Donghyuck waves it off.

 

“If you passed out I would have let you go,” he says in consolation. Yukhei shoots him a dirty look before sitting up straight. “What are we gonna do now?”

 

Yukhei seems to consider this for a moment. “We could prank Johnny when he gets home?”

 

Donghyuck raises an eyebrow. “Is that a good idea?”

 

Yukhei smiles, all teeth and gums. “Probably not.”

 

“I’m gonna need more sugar in my system to be that reckless.”

 

Yukhei springs to his seat, tugging Donghyuck up with him. “I have just the thing.”

 

And so they trek back up to Yukhei’s room, where he unearths a giant bag of mini-chocolates. They set to work immediately, Yukhei handing Donghyuck all the Kit Kats while Donghyuck tosses the Twix into Yukhei’s lap. Thirty minutes later, they formulate a chaotically useless plan that only makes sense during a sugar-high.

 

When Johnny gets home, he pulls into the driveway and hops out of his SUV, pausing at the steps of the porch to wave at Donghyuck, who is standing on the second floor balcony.

 

“How’s it going, little man?” Johnny asks, shielding his eyes from the sun as he looks up.

 

Donghyuck smiles with all his teeth. “Pretty awesome!” he hollers down, and then Yukhei appears from behind him with a bucket of ice water, which he proceeds to upend into Johnny’s head. Johnny stays stock still for a moment, shoulders hunched and eyes screwed shut from the shock. Then he opens his eyes, and his irises flash red.

 

Donghyuck lets out an unearthly scream, startling Yukhei.

 

“You both have ten seconds to get downstairs.”

 

“But--” Yukhei protests, looking at Donghyuck in alarm.

 

“One!” Johnny yells.

 

“Fuck fuck fuck fuck,” Yukhei chants, grabbing Donghyuck by the wrist. “Where can we hide?”

 

“If we hide he’ll still find us and then we’ll be in bigger trouble,” Donghyuck hisses. “I can’t believe you convinced me this was a good idea.”

 

Yukhei turns to look at Donghyuck in wide-eyed betrayal. “Me? You’re the one who came up with this idea!”

 

“Details!”

 

Seven!

 

Fuck,” Yukhei says, one more time, before dragging Donghyuck down the stairs, pausing at the base where Johnny is waiting for him.

 

“In my defense, I’m too pretty to die,” Donghyuck tries. Johnny just flashes them a bone-chilling smile. He’s soaked to the bone, hair plastered to his forehead and nice suit drenched, but somehow, he’s still terrifying.

 

And then, Donghyuck is being hauled over Johnny’s shoulder. “What the--” he yelps, forehead hitting Johnny’s back.

 

“Johnny!” Yukhei yelps, finding himself in a similar situation. Donghyuck turns to face him, both of them upside down now as Johnny carries them through the house with minimal effort.

 

Donghyuck mouths what the fuck to Yukhei, who is just as confused.

 

“Hey Kun, can you open the patio doors?” Johnny calls out. Yukhei winces, closing his eyes.

 

“Oh, for god’s sake,” they hear Kun sigh.

 

“Johnny, we can explain,” Yukhei tries, once they’re out in the backyard. Donghyuck winces at the change in brightness, looking around listlessly at the back patio.

 

“If you kids think you can outdo me?” Johnny says, finally stopping. Donghyuck and Yukhei share a look of confusion and terror. And then, they’re being tossed into the air, Donghyuck screaming at the top of his lungs.

 

They hit the water with a loud splash, and the cold hits seconds later. Donghyuck flounders around in the pool, chlorine in his eyes.

 

Jerk!” he screeches, slapping the water wildly and barely managing to stay afloat. Yukhei fares no better, shaking his hair out of his eyes and coughing out the water he no doubt swallowed. Johnny stands at the edge, with his hands on his hips and a satisfied smirk.

 

“So kids, how was school?”

 

 

Dinner is a relatively calm affair, compared to earlier. Kun had refused to feed anyone until Yukhei and Donghyuck had both taken showers and Johnny had changed. They all sit on high stools around the kitchen island-turned-dining table, inhaling the pasta Kun had made.

 

(At first, Donghyuck thinks maybe Kun made way too much, but then he watches Yukhei inhale half of it within ten minutes, then an entire loaf of garlic bread, and thinks, never mind. )

 

“Choose carefully,” Donghyuck says, dropping several tubs of face masks and packets of sheet masks onto Yukhei’s bed.

 

Yukhei blinks down at the mess, then at Donghyuck, lost. “I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing here, to be honest.” He picks up one of the sheet masks. “Snail extract?” He blinks, horrified. “Do they have to hurt the snails to make this?”

 

“No, dumb dumb,” Donghyuck groans, snatching the packet out of his hand. “Snail extract is the slime they make. How can they make slime if they’re dead?”

 

“But why would I want snail slime on my face…”

 

“Because it has tons of regenerative properties for the skin, duh.

 

Yukhei’s face twists. “But it’s gross.”

 

“Hopeless,” Donghyuck mutters, rooting through the pile until he finds what he’s looking for. “If you wanna do something right,” he starts, picking up the tub and tossing it at Yukhei. “You gotta do it yourself.”

 

He tugs Yukhei by the front of the shirt into the bathroom. “Egg pore mask? Why would I put eggs on my face?” Yukhei asks.

 

“Because it’ll shrink those Texas-sized pores,” Donghyuck drawls, looking around Yukhei’s counter space until he finds the cleanser. Yukhei pats at his skin with wide eyes. “Here, wash your face with this first,” Donghyuck instructs.

 

Yukhei does as he’s told, getting his already-damp bangs even wetter. Donghyuck makes a noise of contempt, going back to his suitcase to dig through it and find his favorite headband (the one with pink kitty ears).

 

“Messy,” Donghyuck mumbles, going up on his tiptoes to tug the headband over Yukhei’s head and push his hair back. Yukhei looks at his reflection skeptically.

 

“Kitten ears? Isn’t that kind of ironic?”

 

Donghyuck bites back a smile, because Yukhei looks kind of silly but mostly adorable. “It’s poetic cinema.”

 

“I don’t even wanna know what that means.” Donghyuck rolls his eyes and picks up the face mask tub, opening it and peeling the cover off. He sniffs at it delicately, because it’s one of his favorite smells.

 

“Smell,” he says, holding it up to Yukhei, who bends down and sniffs.

 

“That doesn’t smell like eggs,” he notes.

 

“Of course not. It’s a face mask, Jan.”

 

Yukhei rolls his eyes good-naturedly and waits for his next instruction. Donghyuck considers their height difference situation carefully. “Okay, you should probably sit down somewhere so I can reach.”

 

“Or we could just--” Donghyuck yelps when Yukhei grabs him by the hips, lifting him up without any sort of struggle, and setting him gently on the counter and putting them almost at eye-level. Yukhei leans in, setting his hands on either side of Donghyuck’s thighs.

 

“That was so unnecessary,” Donghyuck says, his voice embarrassingly wobbly, and there’s a blush creeping up on his face. Yukhei’s eyes are warm and wide and swim with mirth.

 

“Perhaps,” is all Yukhei says, but he doesn’t back away, and Donghyuck doesn’t really want him to.

 

“Idiot,” Donghyuck mumbles, looking down at the face mask tub and scooping some onto his fingers. “Close your eyes.” Yukhei does as he’s told, but there’s still a stupid smirk on his face. Donghyuck swipes the mask slowly along Yukhei’s cheekbones and down his jaw.

 

It’s uncharacteristically quiet as Donghyuck covers Yukhei’s face evenly, taking extra care around his eyes and mouth. With Yukhei’s eyes closed, it gives Donghyuck a chance to look more carefully at his face-- the pronounced cupid’s bow, the feathery eyelashes, the strong brows. Yukhei is startlingly attractive, and it makes Donghyuck’s stomach churn, getting to see it up close.

 

Yukhei blinks his eyes open when Donghyuck doesn’t move, and Donghyuck jolts, meeping. “Holy shit dude, you’re so ugly.”

 

Yukhei’s eyes snap to his reflection in the mirror, and he lets out a low noise in his throat. “I look like a ghost!” Donghyuck purses his lips to keep from laughing as Yukhei bares his teeth, making weird faces in the mirror.

 

“Stop moving your face, you’re gonna mess up the mask,” Donghyuck says, giggling and tugging at Yukhei’s shirt to get him to step away.

 

“How am I supposed to look mysterious and cool like this?”

 

Donghyuck shoots him a flat look, hopping down off the counter. “You never were to begin with.” He ignores Yukhei’s answering whine as he turns on the faucet, washing the mask residue from his fingers.

 

“Hyuck, it’s starting to itch,” Yukhei complains, trailing behind Donghyuck as he goes back into the room.

 

“I don’t think I have to tell you not to scratch it,” Donghyuck says idly, scanning over his pile of products, before picking up the sticky honey mask and his favorite cleanser.

 

“But it itches, ” Yukhei whines.

 

Donghyuck ignores it and goes about washing his face, clipping his bangs back before carefully putting the mask on in the mirror. Yukhei stands behind him silently, watching in abject fascination until Donghyuck is satisfied with his work.

“How long are we supposed to have these on?”

 

“Ten to fifteen minutes,” Donghyuck says, double-checking his reflection in the mirror.

 

Yukhei beams. “Perfect! I can show you this vine compilation video I found on Youtube!”

 

 

“Can I ask you a personal question?” Donghyuck asks. He’s frowning down at Yukhei’s toes, which he’s painting a sparkly purple with mathematical precision.

 

(Yukhei had argued valiantly for the confetti nail polish, but Donghyuck pointed out that he’d need to do more than five layers to get a good coating, and neither of them were patient enough for that.)

 

“Uh, sure?” It’s a little sudden, considering most of the night so far had passed with their usual banter. Mulan 2 is playing on Yukhei’s laptop, because when Yukhei washed his face mask off, he created a minor flood in the bathroom and Donghyuck had to clean it up, so he got to choose the movie.

 

Donghyuck screws the top of the nail polish bottle closed and sets it aside to let the first coating dry, before looking at Yukhei.

 

“Where are your parents?” he asks carefully. “Just cuz… like, you live with Johnny and Kun and I’ve never seen them at your games--” He watches Yukhei’s expression turned from confused to guarded. His stomach twists into knots, because he can see the sadness peeking through. “You don’t have to answer--” he starts, because he doesn’t like the look on Yukhei’s face.

 

“It’s okay, you would have found out eventually,” Yukhei says, his voice subdued. He picks at a loose thread on his duvet, shoulders slumping.

 

“I didn’t mean to--”

 

“It’s really okay, Hyuck. You didn’t do anything wrong,” Yukhei says, looking up with a sad sort of smile. Donghyuck picks up the nail polish bottle just so he has something to do. He sets about doing the second coating on Yukhei’s toes, waiting for Yukhei to speak.

 

“They’re uhm… they passed away. My whole pack died when I was like thirteen. Cuz of Hunters.”

 

Donghyuck’s heart drops to his stomach. “Yukhei--”

 

“I just remember like… running as fast as I can here. Kun’s my cousin and I visited the Reserve a couple times as a kid so I knew where it was. I was the… only one who made it.”

 

There’s a lump in Donghyuck’s throat, and his hands are starting to tremble, so he puts down the nail polish again. This isn’t what he expected to hear, not in the slightest. Yukhei was supposed to be the golden boy, the one who had the perfect life. It’s hard to reconcile this dark past with the person who never really stops smiling.

 

“I remember you transferring to our middle school halfway through the year,” Donghyuck says quietly. He looks up at Yukhei, who still has his head hung down, looking defeated.

 

“I was really angry back then. I didn’t know why I survived when no one else did.” Yukhei smiles bitterly. “That’s actually how I got into football. Johnny said it’d be a good channel for my rage or whatever. And it just… stuck.”

 

Yukhei is probably the most harmless, easy-going person Donghyuck has ever met, and it feels like they’re talking about a different person altogether. But then he’s reminded of the hunter from weeks ago, body torn to bits, no signs of remorse. It hadn’t been Yukhei’s first kill, either. He’d been in his human form the other times.

 

“And now?”

 

Yukhei shrugs. “I’m mostly okay now. Football helps. And now that I can fully shift into a wolf, I end up running a lot. It really clears my mind. But I miss them like crazy.”

 

“I can only imagine.”

 

“It’s not like I was so young that I don’t remember them. I was thirteen. I lived most of my life knowing and loving them.” Yukhei shifts to reach near his pillows and grab his phone. “Wanna see a picture of them?”

 

“For sure,” Donghyuck says, sliding himself so he’s shoulder to shoulder with Yukhei. He peers at Yukhei’s screen, taking in the slightly old picture. It’s a pre-teen Yukhei, standing between a beautifully lithe woman and a stockier man. Even at that age, Yukhei towered over the both of them, and his smile is just as wide and bright as it is now, but full of braces.

 

“Your mom looks like an Amazon goddess,” Donghyuck says, tapping the photo to zoom in. Yukhei hums in agreement. Donghyuck shifts the zoomed in photo so Yukhei’s face is in the center. “Wow, you were so ugly back then, holy shit.”

 

“Shut up,” Yukhei snorts, shoving Donghyuck lightly. “Wait. That means I’m cute now. Are you admitting I’m cute?”

 

“You’re actually the worst,” Donghyuck groans. It’s silent for a minute, both of them staring at Yukhei’s phone, even though the screen’s shut off. “You know… I bet they’d be super proud of you right now.” He nudges Yukhei’s shoulder gently when he doesn’t respond. “I mean it.”

 

“Thanks Hyuck,” Yukhei says. “I wanna be someone they can be proud of. And also I wanna kill some fucking Hunters.”

 

Donghyuck blinks at him, before breaking out into stunned laughter.

 

“What?” Yukhei asks, pouting cutely.

 

“Nothing, I just--” Donghyuck tries to hide his grin behind his hand. “Who even are you and what did you do with Yukhei Wong?”

 

Yukhei grins sheepishly. “I’ve always been this way, it’s just not something I go around telling people, you know?”

 

Donghyuck’s face softens into something more benign, and he pats Yukhei’s thigh. “Thank you for trusting me with this, and thanks for being you.” He doesn’t have to say that he was wrong about Yukhei, that he’s different-- so much better-- than Donghyuck ever gave him credit for.

 

Yukhei smiles, and it’s genuine and comfortable. It makes the tightness in Donghyuck’s chest loosen. It’s kind of annoying, that Donghyuck takes it so personally every time Yukhei shows signs of being even the slightest bit unhappy, but it is what it is. That’s what happens when you catch feelings, Donghyuck thinks, slapping Yukhei’s stomach for good measure, before shifting back to his spot to do the clear coat. Yukhei’s toes are going to be the envy of the entire football team.

 

 

Donghyuck wakes up disgustingly warm. His left eye is glued shut, so he blinks his right rapidly, trying to gather his bearings. When he tries to shift, he realizes he’s been burrito-ed in Yukhei’s duvet. On top of that, Yukhei the Human Space Heater is wrapped around him, contributing to the dampness at the back of Donghyuck’s sleep shirt.

 

“Eugh,” Donghyuck mutters, trying to unravel himself from the blanket without waking Yukhei up, but it seems like nothing, save for a heavy metal concert, will wake him up. He kicks the blanket all the way past his feet, (almost) feeling bad for hogging the whole thing at some point in the middle of the night, before settling back in Yukhei’s arms. Maybe he’s supposed to be feeling weird about this-- this closeness-- but he and Yukhei had come to an agreement last night.

 

(“You sure you don’t want the guest room?” Yukhei asks, pulling the duvet back.

 

Donghyuck jumps into bed, pulling the covers up over his shoulders. “I’m not a weeny. Are you a weeny?”

 

“I’m not a weeny,” Yukhei grumbles, sliding into his side of the bed and turning onto his side to face Donghyuck. He looks like he’s hesitating to say something, so Donghyuck mirrors him, raising his eyebrows in expectation. “I just want you to know… I’m a cuddler. If you wake up and we’re--” Yukhei clears his throat. “I apologize in advance.”

 

Donghyuck laughs, even though his stomach is flip flopping. “Well, looks like it’s your lucky day, because I, too, am a sleep cuddler.”

 

Yukhei’s eyes widen. “Even… with me?”

 

“It’s unconditional,” Donghyuck confirms.

 

“Oh, well, in that case--” It’s like they’re on the same wavelength at that moment, because they both scoot towards each other and meet at the middle. Donghyuck flops half on top of Yukhei, throwing his leg over Yukhei’s stomach and pressing his face into his shoulder.

 

Donghyuck sniffs as subtly as he can, and he doesn’t even bother denying that he’s enjoying this way too much. Yukhei is warm and smells like shampoo and the milk-scented sleep pack Donghyuck made him put on. Yukhei’s arms wind around Donghyuck’s waist, and he shifts around until they both are comfortable. (It’s too easy.)

 

“Well…” Yukhei clears his throat. “Since that’s settled.”

 

“We won’t speak of this. Ever.”

 

“Noted.”

 

“Good night, Yukhei.”

 

“Sweet dreams, Hyuck.”)

 

Donghyuck thinks Yukhei is cute (and hot) (and annoying) when he’s awake, but when he’s asleep, he looks a lot like an overgrown baby. There’s some awkward stubble growing above his lips, which are pulled into a sleepy pout. Every so often, he wrinkles his nose and sniffles, and it’s ridiculously endearing.

 

A stronger man would resist, but Donghyuck is weak weak weak, so he reaches up to trace his fingers along the sharp jut of Yukhei’s jaw. He chalks up his confidence to his sleep-addled brain, and he just goes with it, grazing his fingertips along Yukhei’s eyelids, smooths the furrow in his brows, down the slope of his nose, until he reaches Yukhei’s lips. Donghyuck wants nothing more than to kiss Yukhei, but he doesn’t want this to be their first kiss.

 

But Donghyuck is weak, so he lets himself tilt his head up and press a kiss to Yukhei’s jaw, before scrambling out of bed, the bravery gone.

 

“Pull yourself together, Lee,” Donghyuck mutters, casting a furtive glance at Yukhei, who groans and rolls over onto the space Donghyuck had been occupying, face pressed into Donghyuck’s pillow. “Ugh.” Donghyuck goes to the edge of the bed and pulls the blanket over Yukhei’s body. “Boys are stupid.”

 

Donghyuck brushes his teeth and cleanses before heading downstairs, where he can hear Kun and Johnny in the kitchen.

 

“Hey little man!” Johnny greets him with a raise of his mug. Donghyuck grins and bounds over to him, resting his chin on Johnny’s shoulder.

 

“Whatcha drinking?” Donghyuck asks, sniffing the mug when Johnny raises it for him to observe the contents. “Ugh, coffee.”

 

“I’ll have you know, coffee is a very important part of a balanced diet.”

 

“We have tea if you want,” Kun offers, turning away from the stove to ruffle Donghyuck’s hair.

 

“Yes please,” Donghyuck says, with his pout. Kun tilts his chin towards a cupboard, so Donghyuck thanks him and goes to it, rifling through the contents until he finds a jar of jasmine pearls. “Whoa.”

 

“Got those from Renjun’s mom a couple weeks ago,” Kun says.

 

“It’s quali-tea!” Johnny says, laughing at his own joke. “Get it? Like quality but tea since it’s tea-- ” Donghyuck grimaces. Johnny clicks his tongue. “You kids have no appreciation for good humor.”

 

“It’s okay,” Donghyuck says, pouring boiling water into a mug and letting the pearls steep, before hopping onto the stool across from Johnny. He sniffs indignantly and rests his chin in his palm. “Taeyong would have laughed.”

 

Johnny coughs, mid-sip, and wipes his mouth, face red. “You think so? Does he like those kinds of jokes?”

 

Donghyuck and Kun share a look. “Oh, definitely. Taeyong thinks puns are the epitome of good humor. If he was here he’d probably do this ugly half-snort half-wheeze thing.”

 

“Really?”

 

Donghyuck rolls his eyes. “Really. You two are very compatible that way.”

 

Johnny takes another sip of his coffee, trying (and failing) to hide his wide smile. “I thought so too.”

 

“Hyuck, is Yukhei still sleeping?” Kun asks. “Breakfast is almost ready, and we have a lot to do before we drive out.”

 

Donghyuck grabs his mug, already sliding out of his seat. “I’ll go wake him up.”

 

When he steps into Yukhei’s bedroom, he isn’t surprised to see Yukhei still knocked out cold, face pressed into Donghyuck’s pillow they way he left him. Yukhei’s also kicked the blanket off the bed, Donghyuck sighs, setting his tea down on the nightstand, before raising his arm and smacking Yukhei’s butt as hard as he can.

 

“Oow--” Yukhei groans, blinking sleepily at Donghyuck. “What was that for?”

 

“I needed to wake you up somehow,” Donghyuck says, taking his mug and blowing on the surface to cool it. “Kun says we have a lot to do.” Yukhei just makes a noise of discontent and smashes his face back into the pillow. Donghyuck hates himself for finding it endearing. 


Chapter Text

Balance.

 

The one thing the universe and the Powers That Be hold paramount to all else. No joy without suffering. No life without death. No good without evil.

 

Once, millenia ago, the balance of the universe-- or at least, a small sliver of it-- was thrown off. Vampires, werewolves, fae, among many, rose up against mortal humans, intent on laying their claim to the earth and what they thought was so rightfully theirs. Blood was shed, lives were lost, and from the necessity, rose the Hunters.

 

Their duty was simple: protect humans from the supernatural creatures that sought to establish a new world order, where humans would be nothing but slaves to their so-called superior life forms. Retribution was swift and exact, and the power-hungry, bloodthirsty Supernaturals eliminated, leaving the survivors to live in the shadows, in fear.

 

The balance the universe sought to achieve was short. Now empowered by their victories and newfound vengeance, but no longer needed by the humans they were sworn to protect, the Hunters became corrupt, seeking to eliminate even the most peaceful of creatures. Fueled by fear-mongering and violence, the number of Hunters dwindled, but the spark of hatred lived on.

 

The supernatural community, now content to live peacefully and quietly, was under attack, but out of bloodlust, rather than necessity. And the universe did what it always does: it sought balance.

 

In the decades of carnage that followed, in the ashes of a bitter and seemingly endless war, rose a new breed of human, the universe’s solution to the corruption of Hunters: the Warrior clans. Sworn to keep peace between mortal humans and supernatural entities, Warriors were trained from birth to fight, to protect, and serve justice to those who deserved it. Some were even bestowed with special powers, all in the name of keeping the balance between the forces at play. And among them, a Healer, a near-divine entity whose purpose is to save those who need it most.

 

Donghyuck, knows that even now the war wages on, in battles unseen, some won, some lost. Pain, loss, triumph, justice-- those are all part of the cycle that goes on and on and on.

 

And he knows how hard the Warriors work. During the full moon, his part of town feels like a shell of itself, as his family and friends go on to fight another day, to protect those who need protecting. Sometimes they win, and sometimes they lose. That is how it is, has and will be for the eons to come. He knows his own role in all of this, the importance of his presence as a beacon of hope and light in dark times.

 

Yet, Donghyuck can’t help but think, sitting in Yukhei’s truly hideous red truck, watching him (attempt to) belt God is a Woman, that they failed. That he failed. That the universe failed this wonderful, ray of werewolf sunshine, who doesn’t deserve the pain and trauma that he carries on his shoulders.

 

He wishes Yukhei didn’t have to know how to fight and kill-- that he could still be with his parents, living a normal, happy life like he deserves. Donghyuck wishes that Yukhei could roam free in his wolf form, free of the dangers of Hunters, and run wild like Donghyuck knows he craves.

 

Instead, they’re driving up several hours into the Sierra Nevada, navigating narrow single-lane roads along the edges of mountains as the sun sets beyond them. The first group of cars had left in the early afternoon, with Johnny leading the way. Yukhei and Donghyuck were the last ones to head out. Johnny had explained that he staggers it out because an entire caravan of vehicles would draw too much attention.

 

It just really fucking sucks, Donghyuck thinks, leaning his head against the cool glass of the window. They’d started off the drive in a good mood, but it’s been hours now, and Donghyuck feels like he’s lost in his head. He can’t stop thinking about what Yukhei told him last night. Yukhei puts up a fairly convincing strong front, but Donghyuck knows loss; he knows grief and tragedy and the compulsive need to assure everyone that he’s okay, everything is fine.

 

Yukhei had shared the story quickly, like he’d wanted to just get it out of the way and move on. But Donghyuck can’t move on from it, he can’t stop thinking about it. Yukhei hadn’t allowed them to linger on the subject at all last night, and Donghyuck let it go because he didn’t want to ruin the mood more than he already had. But now his thoughts are swirling a mile a minute. He kind of loathes himself for judging Yukhei so quickly at the beginning, for assuming Yukhei was a product of an idyllic childhood and a silver spoon in his mouth, when he is, in fact, the personification of resilience, inner strength, and goodness.

 

Donghyuck was wrong. He was wrong about everything.

 

Yukhei’s songs are on shuffle, and when God is a Woman ends, something that Donghyuck vaguely recognizes as The Chainsmokers comes on.

 

Well, Donghyuck thinks wryly, I wasn’t wrong about his terrible taste in music.  

 

“What’s got you so quiet?” Yukhei asks, noticing Donghyuck’s eyes on him. He barely spares Donghyuck a glance, keeping his eyes carefully on the road as they navigate the winding path towards their destination.

 

“I was thinking about how your music taste sucks ass,” Donghyuck says, smirking when Yukhei’s face turns obviously offended. He grabs the phone from where it was placed in the cup holder, and taps out Yukhei’s pass code (123456). Eventually, Donghyuck decides on Coldplay, and Yellow starts playing through the speakers.

 

After a minute of quiet, Yukhei speaks up again. “What were you actually thinking about?”

 

It takes a moment for Donghyuck to process the question, and curse himself for forgetting that nothing gets past Yukhei. If he doesn’t mention something, it’s because he’s willfully decided against it, not because he didn’t notice. Yukhei notices everything. Donghyuck blows out a puff of air, as if it’ll get rid of the somewhat suffocating pressure on his chest.

 

“Everything… nothing… I just--” Donghyuck turns his head to look out the window. With night falling, it’s becoming nearly impossible to make out the thick of trees that line the mountainsides and the sharp drops below. “I was thinking about the whole Hunters thing.”

 

Yukhei notices everything, but so does Donghyuck. Which is why, as he turns to face Yukhei again, he notices Yukhei’s grip on the steering wheel tighten, just slightly. “What about them?”

 

“Just like, how Hunters were supposed to be the good guys, and then they became the bad guys, and they hurt innocent people. And they’ll keep hurting people, and it just… really fucking sucks.”

 

“Yeah, it does.”

 

“And how, if they didn’t exist, you wouldn’t have to-- have to drive out into the middle of nowhere just to shift, and Taeyong’s entire coven wouldn’t have been killed, your parents wouldn’t have been killed--” The moment Yukhei winces, Donghyuck clamps his mouth shut and sinks back into his seat. “I’m sorry--”


“It’s okay. Hyuck, really.” Yukhei’s voice sounds stilted, but sincere. “You’re right, there’d be a lot less to worry about if there weren’t Hunters. But--” Yukhei blinks at the open road, like he’s trying to gather his words. It’s the most careful he’s ever been with his words, and Donghyuck knows, somehow, that whatever Yukhei says next is important to him. So he turns towards Yukhei, and listens.

 

“We all know the history, right? About the universe, and balance, and good and evil and all that. And it’s all kinda complicated now, but if the Hunters hadn’t turned, there would be no Warriors. There’d be no Healer. No… you.”

 

Yukhei isn’t looking at him, just straight ahead with his eyebrows furrowed like he’s determined not to meet Donghyuck’s eyes. As for Donghyuck, his tongue feels like lead, throat tight. He looks at Yukhei for what feels like hours, before he can bring himself to speak.

 

“Am I-- Is it that worth it to you? All the pain and suffering?”

 

“I can’t change the past, Hyuck. For a long time, I wanted to. I wished I could-- I dunno, build a time machine or something and go back to that moment, when everything changed. Maybe I could have saved them. Maybe there was something I could have done.” There’s so much sorrow in Yukhei’s voice, just then, that Donghyuck feels the sudden urge to cry. But he blinks rapidly, dispelling the wetness in his eyes, and stays quiet. “But that’s not possible. I’ve accepted that. All I can do now is… hope that they’re in a better place, and try to live happily. That’s what they would have wanted.”

 

All Donghyuck can muster up is a very meek, “Yeah, you’re right.” It doesn’t seem like enough, as Adventures of a Lifetime starts to play, and its upbeat, hopeful melody causes a very strange sense of cognitive dissonance.

 

“I used to wish I could change the past too. It didn’t last very long.” Donghyuck stares straight ahead, matching Yukhei, as he digs up memories that he hasn’t dwelled on in years. Some things, he’d told his friends, long ago. But there are other things, small details and feelings and fleeting memories, that he hadn’t wanted to share… until now. Until Yukhei.

 

“My… uh. Biological parents, I guess you could call them-- they tried to kill me. Several times actually.” Donghyuck feels Yukhei glance at him briefly, eyes full of alarm. “They were super religious, and they thought I was like… the anti-Christ or something. They didn’t understand.”

 

Some moments are blurry, like he’s looking at them through a veil. Others are crystal clear, imprinted in his memory forever. “I guess I can’t blame them. My powers started manifesting pretty early-- I would talk to tree sprites and my parents thought I was talking to demons. Windows would break when I was mad, I could sorta levitate objects without thinking about it-- the standard stuff, you know?”

 

Yukhei doesn’t respond, but Donghyuck knows he’s listening. “I got my first rune when was… ten? I guess? And it hurt so much I couldn’t stop screaming. There wasn’t any blood but I felt like someone was carving something into my skin with a knife or something, over and over again. I couldn’t stop the pain, and I didn’t know how to handle it. My parents, naturally, thought I was being possessed by a demon.”

 

It’s almost fully dark now, the few feet of road stretching ahead of them illuminated solely by the truck’s headlights. It makes Donghyuck a little anxious, despite knowing Yukhei is a good driver. He’s never been this high up into the mountains, and especially not at night. It’s an odd thing, discussing his parents. He doesn’t think of them often. Ever.

 

“So they called a priest to perform an exorcism… that obviously didn’t work. So they dumped me in a bathtub filled with tap water and just a sprinkle of holy water, and tried to drown me. But you wanna know the kicker?” Yukhei looks a little wary at how Donghyuck starts to smile a little, amused by the whole thing now.

 

“The rune that I got? It was elemental-- water to be exact.” Yukhei’s jaw goes slack, and a giggle makes its way out of Donghyuck’s mouth before he can help it. “Yeah, so I was breathing underwater and I didn’t know how, and my parents freaked out that I was still thrashing around in there, it was a whole thing. In the end, the thing that almost killed me... saved me.” The smile slips away after that. “I remember running-- I wanted to get out of that house and as far away from those people as possible. In the end, Joohyun found me.”

 

“How is that possible?”

 

“Sooman-- the Healer before me-- he had a vision. Of his heir, or whatever, I guess. So Joohyun went to get me. I was scared and alone. It was dark and cold out, and Joohyun was just… warm, you know? She looked liked home. I don’t think that makes any sense.”

 

“No, I get you,” Yukhei says quietly. “That’s how I feel about Johnny and Kun.”

 

That makes Donghyuck smile. “So… yeah that’s my tragic backstory. Now I’m here. And… you’re right,” he says, coming to the realization as he says the words out loud. “I’m happy where I am now. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.” Yukhei isn’t smiling, exactly, but a lot of tension bleeds out of him then. There’s an unspoken understanding that ebbs between them as Yukhei reaches a hand out, and Donghyuck presses their palms together.

 

Yukhei squeezes Donghyuck’s hand, and lets his thumb brush over the crescent moon imprinted on Donghyuck’s wrist. The sensation of it makes Donghyuck blush from head to toe, and he turns his head, embarrassed, only to jerk suddenly. “Yukhei stop!”

 

Yukhei doesn’t brake, but he does slow the truck down, before realizing there’s nothing on the road ahead of them. “What? What are you talking about?”

 

“Can’t you see?” Donghyuck says, with increasing panic. “The sign up ahead. It says this is a dead end.” Why can’t Yukhei see the signs? Donghyuck wonders. There are caution signs everywhere, illuminated in white and red. There are warnings that the road ends, and flimsy wooden barricades just up ahead, in front of what looks like the edge of a cliff.

 

“Yukhei, fucking stop! ” Donghyuck screeches, squeezing Yukhei’s arm as Yukhei accelerates. “Are you insane? ” But Yukhei just grins at him, and the truck speeds at the barricades with no hesitation. Donghyuck screams at the top of his lungs, covering his eyes, and waits for the impending crash.

 

It never comes.

 

All Donghyuck can register in those seconds is the pounding of blood in his ears, the adrenaline making his skin feel like livewires, and the very distinct feeling of still being on solid ground. He spreads the fingers covering his eyes and peeks out, only to see road in front of them. He whips around, and behind him, there are no barricades-- like they didn’t even exist, and oh my god I’m stupid.

 

When Donghyuck sinks back into his seat, he realizes Yukhei is laughing at him. “You fucking jerk, ” Donghyuck whines, punching Yukhei’s arm. “Why didn’t you just tell me about the glamour?”

 

“It was fun seeing you freak out,” Yukhei says, still snickering under his breath. “I can’t believe you thought the signs were real. Aren’t you supposed to be all-powerful or whatever?”

 

“Fuck you!” Donghyuck crosses his arms and seethes, pissed at Yukhei for scaring the life out of him, and for also being stupid enough not to recognize a glamour when he saw one. The Pacific Lycan woodlands are a largely guarded piece of land; most of the supernatural community is left largely ignorant to its existence.

 

But Donghyuck is Donghyuck, and he tries to know as much as he can, despite his aversion to studying (or at least, seeming like he enjoys it). He’s heard vague things about the woodlands, has imagined its pristine beauty and importance to the werewolves of their community, and the suspense had only grown when he’d badgered Yukhei this morning about it and was told to just wait and see, Duckie.

 

The Pacific Lycan woodlands belong to werewolves, by birthright. Protected by ancestral magic, it is the most sacred ground, a place of safety from Hunters in the past. During the worst of the wars, packs resided within the several miles of untouched forest for their own protection. Now, most had expanded beyond the borders, like Johnny’s pack-- but rarely strayed too far.

 

According to Yukhei, they tried to make the trip up into the woods every couple of months. It’s something that requires preparation and time and effort, so it’s not one that can be made more often than this. He’d said it with a sort of wistfulness that he likely wasn’t aware of at the time.

 

“You realize you’re bouncing in your seat, right?”

 

Donghyuck snaps out of his thoughts and stills, shooting Yukhei a dirty look. “Sue me for being excited.”

 

Yukhei smirks. “Don’t worry, it’s cute.” Donghyuck snaps his mouth shut, praying to every deity he knows of that his furious blush goes away. He sits on his hands, like it’ll keep the excitement at bay. It doesn’t, exactly, but he stops squirming (as far as he can tell).

 

There isn’t much talking as they approach the border. Yukhei is concentrating on the road ahead, now slightly perilous with the uneven terrain. They pass through several more glamours, pretty obvious to Donghyuck now that he knows to look for them, but his head still spins at all the twists and turns, wondering how Yukhei can remember exactly where to go.

 

(He’d made a joke earlier about using Google Maps. It hadn’t been received well.)

 

It’s been almost three hours in the car when Donghyuck sees the border. He sits up straighter and leans forward against the dash, eyeing the shields with wide-eyed fascination. Almost like a giant dome, the shield protecting the woodlands glitters electric blue, obscuring what lays past it with bright, swirling colors.

 

Donghyuck can feel the energy vibrating in his bones. “This is blood magic,” he murmurs.

 

“It’s the most powerful kind, right?”

 

Donghyuck hums, eyes slipping shut as they pass through the barrier, and shivers, the magic feeling like walking through a curtain of ice cold water. “The second most powerful,” he corrects, once the truck has made it into the woodlands. “The most powerful kind of magic is love.” Donghyuck grins wryly at Yukhei. “Everyone knows that.”

 

“I’ve read Harry Potter, shut up,” Yukhei huffs. Donghyuck laughs at Yukhei’s expense. Yukhei shoves Donghyuck’s shoulder lightly, but his version of light involves causing Donghyuck to slam against the car door. “ Fuck, sorry!”

 

“Jerk,” Donghyuck huffs, rubbing his sore shoulder and kicking Yukhei’s shin. When he yelps in pain, Donghyuck scowls and tells him he deserved it.

 

Eventually they settle into quiet. The woodlands within the shield look no different from the ones beyond it, but there’s something about this place, like every rock, every blade of grass, is infused with magic, with a kind of life that exists nowhere else.

 

“You feel it too?” Yukhei asks quietly. Donghyuck nods, pressing on a button to lower his window. The wind is sharp and exacting, but Donghyuck loves it. He inhales deeply, and feels like he’s breathing for the first time.

 

After a few more minutes of navigating, they pull up to a clearing, where a number of cars are parked in no particular order. Donghyuck recognizes Johnny’s SUV quickly, and leans out of the window to wave wildly when he catches sight of him and Kun, and doesn’t realize he’s about to fall out in his enthusiasm until Yukhei grabs him by the scruff of his hoodie and pulls him back into his seat.

 

Donghyuck grins sheepishly at Yukhei and decides to sit still until Johnny approaches their truck.

 

“Glad you guys made it here safe,” Johnny says, leaning against the open car window, his trademark easy grin more tense this time around. Donghyuck can imagine getting twenty pack members three hours into the mountains safely takes a toll. “You’re the last ones, everyone else has shifted.” Johnny levels Yukhei with a stern look. “You take good care of Donghyuck tonight, alright kid?”

 

Yukhei nods earnestly. “I’ll keep him safe.” Johnny nods, pats the door, and walks back towards his own car. Donghyuck raises an eyebrow at Yukhei.

 

“I wasn’t aware I’d be in danger tonight.”

 

“You won’t! I mean-- probably not? No, definitely not,” Yukhei rambles, like he’s trying to convince himself. Donghyuck presses his lips in a thin line and pats himself on the back for tucking his switchblade into his boot, at the very least.

 

“Some warrior protector you are,” Donghyuck grumbles. Yukhei shoots him a half-hearted glare as he reaches into the space in the back and pulls out a backpack.

 

“I’m gonna shift and put my clothes in here. There’s food and water and stuff already. You’re gonna have to carry it with you tonight, yeah?” Donghyuck mock salutes him and opens the truck door, only to be pulled in, yet again, by the scruff. “Where do you think you’re going?”

 

“Outside? Where the hell else?”

 

Yukhei’s smirk is greasy and utterly disgusting. “You wanna see me naked that bad, Duckie?”

 

Donghyuck’s eyes widen, and he slams the door shut. “I’ll stay here, thanks.”

 

Yukhei laughs, slapping Donghyuck on the back (which proceeds to knock the wind out of him-- Donghyuck will get him back for that later), and hops out of the truck, backpack in hand.

 

“What the hell would I want to see him naked for?” Donghyuck murmurs to himself. Just to prove it to himself, he squeezes his eyes shut and waits. The sounds of gravel underfoot, of rustling fabric, the backpack being zipped shut.

 

And then, the snapping of joints coming apart. Yukhei lets out a low grunt as his body no doubt shifts and expands, and Donghyuck imagines the change is incredibly painful. He winces at the noises, hoping for Yukhei’s suffering to be over quickly. Donghyuck’s heart hammers against his ribs in the following silence.

 

Thump.

 

Donghyuck jolts in his seat at the sound. He opens his eyes and opens the door with shaking hands, before turning fully.

 

“Holy shit,” Donghyuck breathes, now face to face with Yukhei’s wolf. (“He likes going by Xuxi,” Yukhei had informed him this morning.) He’s been in the presence of werewolves before, but as usual, most of his interactions had been limited to healing them while they’re on the brink of death. So seeing a wolf drawn to its full height is a sight to behold.

 

Yukhei’s wolf is beautiful. (Like Yukhei himself, Donghyuck’s brain supplies treacherously.) His fur is brown and gold, like Yukhei’s normal hair. His eyes are wide and brown, and they’re Yukhei’s eyes, but on a massive, eight foot wolf, rather than the human. Donghyuck can’t quite believe his eyes, knocked breathless.

 

Yukhei’s wolf lets out a low noise, cocking its head curiously at Donghyuck’s still form. The backpack hangs from his mouth by the strap, and he steps forward tentatively. Donghyuck, finally snapping out of it, reaches out slowly to take it. Yukhei opens his jaw to let the strap slip free, revealing rows of menacingly sharp teeth.

 

Donghyuck slips the backpack over his shoulders, and Yukhei, satisfied, bops the top of Donghyuck’s head with his snout. Donghyuck laughs, finally reaching out to pet Yukhei. His fur is soft in his hands, his body radiating warmth, and despite its size, Yukhei’s wolf makes Donghyuck feel safe.

 

He hops out of the truck and closes the door, before craning his neck up at Yukhei. “Now what?” Yukhei lets out a noise that sounds like a mix between a laugh and a sneeze, before folding his limbs down to sit. He tilts his head, as if to say, hop on, and Donghyuck feels one moment of sheer incredulity before he shrugs, and climbs onto Yukhei’s back.

 

When Yukhei starts to stand, Donghyuck yelps, winding his arms around Yukhei’s neck and tangling his fingers into the fur underneath. He doubts Yukhei would let him get hurt, but that doesn’t stop him from being terrified when Yukhei takes a few careful steps forward.

 

Yukhei’s body rumbles, like he’s telling Donghyuck to relax, but it’s sort of impossible, when every movement makes Donghyuck feel like he’s going to slip and fall. Sensing Donghyuck’s fear, Yukhei moves slowly and deliberately, letting Donghyuck get used to things, before stepping into the woods.

 

“I’m not scared, okay?” Donghyuck says shakily, barely managing to keep his eyes open. Yukhei lets out a literal bark of laughter. “I’m not! Sorry I’ve never done this before, you fucking jerk!” Another laugh, and Donghyuck huffs into Yukhei’s fur. Stupid boys who turn into stupid werewolves.

 

It takes a minute for Donghyuck to settle, and he allows himself to tilt his head up a little, watching the scenery as they pass. It’s interesting to be this high up and see the forest from this perspective, and curiosity gets the better of him as he sits up a little more.

 

And then Yukhei breaks out into a trot, and Donghyuck lets out a betrayed yelp, going back to putting Yukhei in a chokehold. Donghyuck realizes soon enough that Yukhei intends to go faster, so he stays put, figuring out the best way to settle and hold on for dear life. Yukhei lets out a warning growl, before he speeds up. Donghyuck squeezes his eyes shut and grips tightly, the wind harsh against his skin as Yukhei moves at an inhuman speed through the forest.

 

Donghyuck kind of wants to scream (very very loudly) but stays quiet because he can feel the joy radiating off of Yukhei’s body. His eyes are shut, and even if he were to open them, he wouldn’t be able to see, but he imagines Yukhei’s tongue lolling out of his mouth, eyes sparkling with happiness. It does a lot to calm Donghyuck’s nerves.

 

He doesn’t know how long they run for, but eventually Yukhei slows down. Donghyuck opens his eyes, feeling brave enough to sit up a little. Yukhei pads through the woods like he’s completely at home and knows exactly where he’s going. The trees start to thin out ahead, and eventually clear, and that’s when Yukhei comes to a stop.

 

“Oh shit,” Donghyuck breathes out. Today is, apparently, the day when Donghyuck is constantly losing his breath. In front of him is a clear blue lagoon, reflecting the midnight sky and sliver of moon overhead. Lily pads float on the surface, bumping into cattails that stand tall and proud in the banks. There’s a deer in the far corner, taking a drink of water, but startles when it sees Yukhei, and bolts back into the woods.

 

Yukhei crouches, and Donghyuck slides down his back. His legs feel cramped and tingly from the ride, so Donghyuck wobbles over near the edge of the lagoon and sits down at the bank. “This is beautiful, Xuxi,” Donghyuck says, looking at Yukhei. Clearly this response satisfies Yukhei, because he bops Donghyuck on the head again. “You go run around some more, I’ll stay here.”

 

Yukhei growls in disapproval, but Donghyuck shoots him a bland look. “I’ll be fine. Go. I know you want to.” After a momentary stare-off, Yukhei huffs and stands back up, turning and whacking Donghyuck with his tail as he bounds off. Donghyuck scowls, rubbing the back of his head, and wonders how wolf Yukhei can be so damn sassy.





Donghyuck uses the newfound peace and quiet to meditate. There’s a wonderful thrum of magic in this place, and Donghyuck wants to know it, to understand it. So he shucks off his hoodie and sits with his legs criss-crossed, back straight, like Joohyun taught him. He closes his eyes and takes several deep, measured breaths, before pressing his palms to the ground.

 

It starts slowly, like small zaps of current on his fingertips. Donghyuck frowns, concentrating, and envisions himself digging deep into the soil to get to the root-- the heart that keeps the woodlands alive. As he gets closer, he can feel the magic warming him from head to toe. Like standing in the sunlight on a chilly day, Donghyuck feels nourished, safe.

 

The energy thrums to an unknown beat, bright and loud and wonderful. Donghyuck gasps, feeling the light in his very core, empowering him with a strength he didn’t know he could possess. His fingernails dig into the dirt, grounding him further, and imagines himself glowing.

 

Blood magic is powerful and, when used for darkness, cursed. But this is different. The magic that protects and nourishes these lands was created from the blood willingly spilled by the ancestors. Like armour, their love and sacrifice is the very lifeforce of this place.

 

Feeling overwhelmed, Donghyuck slowly opens his eyes, wincing in pain as he uncurls his fingers from the soil. His heartbeat is too fast, and he feels a little lightheaded, but his mind feels cleansed. He feels strong.

 

He doesn’t know how long he’d meditated for, or how long he stares listlessly at the lagoon, thoughts swirling, but eventually, he hears padding behind him, and somehow knows it’s Yukhei without having to look. Before he can even say anything, though, Yukhei tosses something down in front of him.

 

Donghyuck blinks. “Are those… dead rabbits?” He has to lean back so far to look at Yukhei that he almost falls back. Yukhei nods once, and pads over in front of Donghyuck to nose one carcass closer to his feet. Donghyuck is no stranger to blood or death, but it takes effort to stop himself from gag at the rabbit’s mangled form.

 

“What do you want me to do with this?” Donghyuck gets his answer by Yukhei taking the other carcass and crunching it between his teeth, before gulping it down. He feels a little nauseous, looking at the blood matted on Yukhei’s maw. “Uh… I’m… not really a fan of rabbit, Xuxi,” Donghyuck says.

 

Yukhei makes a disgruntled noise, before scarfing down the other rabbit and bounding off into the woods again. Donghyuck looks down at the blood-stained dirt in front of him and swears he’ll make Yukhei brush his teeth at least five times when he’s back to human form.

 

A few minutes later, Yukhei comes running back, something else secured between his teeth. “Oh for fuck’s sake,” Donghyuck whines quietly, watching as Yukhei drops what appears to be a dead squirrel in front of him. “Xuxi… I… you know I can’t eat this, right?”

 

Yukhei tilts his head, like he’s appalled by the idea that Donghyuck can’t eat a raw squirrel. He pushes it closer to Donghyuck again, like he’s urging Donghyuck to eat. He whines, low in his throat, and Donghyuck feels shitty and guilty and confused all at once. His eyes are wide and imploring, like he won’t be able to rest until Donghyuck eats.

 

Donghyuck exhales sharply. “Xuxi… if I eat this I’ll get sick.” Another whine. “B-but… I’ll uh… I’ll let you buy me a burrito later? I can eat those.” They’re locked in another stare-off, and then Yukhei nods, once, before swallowing down the squirrel. Donghyuck winces while Yukhei is licking himself clean, but paints a smile on when Yukhei looks at him again, and shoots him a thumbs up.

 

Donghyuck pats the patch of grass beside him, and Yukhei folds himself down there. “Did you have a good run?” Yukhei makes a noise of asset, resting his chin on his paws. “Wanna see something cool?” Yukhei tilts his head inquisitively, and Donghyuck smiles. The conversation in the car about his water rune has given him an idea.

 

The rune on his right shoulder blade warms up as Donghyuck calls upon it. Utilizing this particular one feels as easy as breathing now, so the magic isn’t likely to fail. The familiar energy buzzes under Donghyuck’s skin, and he reaches out. Slowly, orbs of water, the size of Donghyuck’s head, float up from the surface of the lagoon. Yukhei sits up, ears perked up and alert.

 

Donghyuck grins, watching as more and more water orbs lift up, rising up higher and higher, until there are at least a hundred, glistening in the air around them and reflecting the moonlight like lightbulbs. “Pretty cool, right?”

 

Yukhei responds by leaping up and lunging for the closest one, teeth clamping down around it and looking completely appalled when the orb falls apart and water drips out of his mouth. Donghyuck snickers, watching Yukhei try again with another one, then another, with every attempt ending with a similar look of confusion.

 

Getting another idea, Donghyuck focuses the energy on one orb, larger than the rest, and freezes it, moving it into Yukhei’s field of vision. “Wanna play fetch?” Donghyuck asks teasingly. He doesn’t expect Yukhei to stick his tongue out and wag his tail excitedly. “Oh my god, what a fucking loser,” Donghyuck murmurs to himself fondly. He moves the orb back and forth like a taunt, and Yukhei’s head moves to watch it.

 

“Fetch!” Donghyuck hollers, making the orb whizz across the clearing, and Yukhei bolts after it, lunging into the air and clamping his teeth around it. He sprints back to Donghyuck and drops the frozen ball in front of him. His tail wags furiously, and he bops Donghyuck’s head, like he’s saying Again!

 

Donghyuck laughs in unadulterated joy, lifting the orb up again. “Oh my god, you’re like the puppy I always wanted. Can you just stay like this?” Yukhei noses at Donghyuck until he topples onto his side. “Fine, fine.”

 

They play this bizarre (but admittedly fun) game of fetch for a few minutes, Yukhei never seeming to tire. It comes to an end when Donghyuck lobs the ice across the lagoon, and Yukhei, not really looking where he’s going, jumps straight into the water, splashing Donghyuck along the way.

 

“The hell, Xuxi!” Donghyuck splutters. Yukhei drags the ball out of the water, wanting to go again, but Donghyuck snaps his fingers and it melts in his jaw. Yukhei blinks, stunned, before doing what Donghyuck imagines is the werewolf equivalent of a shrug, and proceeds to shake himself out. Donghyuck screeches, getting soaked all over again.  

 

“You’re seriously the worst, ” Donghyuck gripes, muttering a quick-dry spell under his breath. “Come here,” he orders, and Yukhei bounds towards him. Donghyuck motions for him to crouch down, and places his palm on Yukhei’s muzzle, whispering the same spell until Yukhei’s fur is dry.

 

Yukhei yips in what Donghyuck can only assume is a thank you, and proceeds to settle down next to him, wrapping his long body around Donghyuck protectively. Yukhei tucks his chin on top of his paws, and Donghyuck nuzzles into his side. There’s a breeze that passes by, but Donghyuck is shielded from it.

 

“Even though you’re annoying… this is pretty nice,” Donghyuck says quietly into Yukhei’s fur, after a moment of comfortable quiet. Yukhei snorts, nosing at Donghyuck’s knee. It takes a lot of courage for him to then say, “Next time you come up… will you take me with you?”

 

Yukhei responds by licking Donghyuck’s face. “Gross gross gross! ” Donghyuck screeches, wiping furiously at his skin with the sleeve of his hoodie. Once he’s sure he’s clean, Yukhei just licks him again. “Do you want to fight?” Clearly emboldened in his wolf state, Yukhei just slobbers all over Donghyuck until Donghyuck scrambles to his feet in an attempt to get away. “I’ll seriously--”

 

Donghyuck doubles over in pain, words forgotten as he gasps for breath. Yukhei’s up in an instant, teeth bared, body tense and ready to fight. The flash of pain passes, and Donghyuck straightens up, clutching his sides. “S-something’s wrong,” he manages. “Someone’s hurt.”

 

Yukhei whines, low in his throat. “I think I know where to find them, but you have to take me there,” Donghyuck says, and Yukhei lowers himself down immediately. Donghyuck clambers up onto his back, and he doesn’t even have time to be scared, as Yukhei breaks off into a sprint, following the directions yelled into his ear.

 

Donghyuck’s heart beats faster and faster the closer they get, until he murmurs for Yukhei to slow down. They’re somewhere close to the border, because there’s a blue haze from the barrier cast over the trees. The light also makes things easier to see. Donghyuck hops off of Yukhei’s back, and presses a finger to his lips. Yukhei stays stock still, ears perked up. And then, from ahead, there’s a quiet whimper. Donghyuck motions for Yukhei to stay put as he walks towards the sound, taking slow, deliberate steps to make as little noise as possible.

 

And then, from beyond a thicket of trees, Donghyuck can make out two figures-- two boys, he realizes. One of them is leaned against a tree trunk, bleeding out. The other is hunched over him protectively. Donghyuck’s heart twists.

 

“Hello?” he calls out. The uninjured boy whips around, getting to his feet and baring his teeth. Donghyuck holds out his hands, approaching carefully. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

 

The boy lets out a snark, fangs jutting out, his nails turning into sharp claws. The closer Donghyuck gets, the more obvious it becomes that this boy is far too young to be able to shift completely; stuck in a state of half-wolf must be unimaginably painful. He poises to lunge at Donghyuck, but before he does, Donghyuck hears Yukhei growling behind him.

 

Donghyuck doesn’t dare turn around, in case the boy tries to attack, but it seems like Yukhei’s presence intimidates the boy enough not to do anything. “We’re friends, okay? My name is Donghyuck, and this is Yukhei. We want to help.”

 

The boy, blood-stained and haggard, glances warily between Yukhei and Donghyuck. Donghyuck holds his hand out and uncurls his fist, allowing an orb of light float on his palm. Finally, the fight drains entirely out of the boy, and he falls to his knees near the injured one. Donghyuck rushes over to join him.

 

“What’s your name?” Donghyuck asks, crouching down.

 

“J-Jisung. This is Chenle.”

 

“Tell me what happened,” Donghyuck urges, passing a hand over Chenle’s body to assess the damage.

 

“We-- Hunters-- Our pack--”

 

Jisung doesn’t need to say much more. Dread roils in Donghyuck’s stomach, and he feels the sudden urge to vomit. He turns his head to Yukhei, whose been hovering protectively. “You need to go get Johnny. We need to get home, now.

 

Yukhei bobs his head in a nod, then levels Jisung with a warning look, before turning on his heel and bounding off through the woods. Donghyuck lets out a shaky breath.

 

“They-- stabbed him. I think it was poison. W-wolfsbane?” Jisung asks, eyes wide and terrified. Donghyuck swallows thickly.

 

“Worse. Belladonna.”

 

Jisung lets out a pitiful whimper. “H-he can’t die. He’s all I have left. I-- I ran as fast as I could, I don’t know--

 

Donghyuck’s tongue feels like lead, but he pats Jisung’s shoulder gently and forces himself to smile. “He’s lucky I was nearby. I’m gonna do my best, okay?” He feels completely sick with dread and worry, and he’s not sure what Yukhei heard, but Donghyuck can’t imagine how he’ll react.

 

As he settles down next to Chenle’s limp body, Donghyuck finds himself thinking of balance again. Jisung and Chenle-- and Yukhei and Taeyong-- are too young to lose everything like this to the Hunters. If this is the universe’s idea of balance, then Donghyuck thinks it’s total bullshit. This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be-- what’s the point of Warriors and Healers and anything if they can’t prevent the loss of innocent lives?

 

Shaking his head, Donghyuck forces himself to clear his mind. There’s no use in worrying; Chenle needs his help now. Donghyuck takes his hands, near freezing, and squeezes them gently. Belladonna is one of the most dangerous poisons of all, and will likely take hours of healing, but Donghyuck doesn’t know if Chenle has that kind of time.

 

He hopes Yukhei comes back soon.






Chapter Text

Cold.

 

Donghyuck feels cold all over.

 

His fingertips, pressed to the bleeding wound in Chenle’s abdomen, feel like ice. He’s not sure if he could even move them if he tried. Everything is slow, hazy, like he’s stuck in a fugue state, but it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters, except Chenle.

 

He’s running out of time. If they don’t make it back home in time, where he has access to the salves that will slow the spread of the poison, Chenle will be gone. But he absolutely can’t let that happen. Not with Jisung, sitting in the front seat of Johnny’s SUV, not taking his eyes off Chenle.

 

“Not much longer, kiddo. Think you can hold out?”

 

Johnny’s voice snaps Donghyuck out of his trance-like state. It’s not exactly helpful-- Donghyuck needs to focus when he’s trying to heal, but knowing that they’re close grounds him.

 

“Yeah,” Donghyuck manages to grunt. Trying to heal this much damage is like holding his breath while pushing up against a brick wall for hours. He’s already exhausted, but it’s years of discipline and sheer will that keep him alert and concentrating.

 

Maybe it’s just the exhaustion, but Donghyuck swears he can feel Yukhei, on the edges of his consciousness. A mix of distress, concern, and unflinching optimism that could only belong to Yukhei. He’s definitely imagining it. Yukhei is still on the reserve making sure the pack gets back safely, that no one has gotten hurt and that no hunters are nearby. There’s no way he’s in Donghyuck’s head.

 

But the fact that Donghyuck’s consciousness seeks him for comfort is incriminating.

 

Chenle is pale by the time the landscape around them looks familiar. Donghyuck can feel his life force ebbing away, his heart slowing so much that Donghyuck can hardly detect it. He doubles down on his efforts, so focused that he’s not sure if he himself is breathing anymore.

 

“We’re here,” comes Johnny’s voice, quiet and frantic. The door to the backseat opens, and Joohyun is the first face Donghyuck sees.

 

“We need to get him inside,” she says and everyone  silently falls into position. Johnny and Taeyong help Donghyuck maneuver Chenle out of the car, and Seulgi and Sooyoung are immediately at their sides. Yeri is at the porch, a crossbow tucked in her arms as she scans the vicinity for danger.

 

Sooyoung presses a potion to Chenle’s lips, while Seulgi holds his jaw open long enough for the liquid to go down his throat. “That’ll put him in stasis,” Sooyoung says, voice even, but face troubled as they walk into the house in a swarm.

 

“Duckie, let go,” Seulgi says, tugging on his arm, and it takes a moment for him to register that he’s in Johnny and Taeyong’s way as they carry Chenle up the stairs. The moment his hands are off of Chenle, Donghyuck’s knees buckle, and as he falls, he’s hit with a bout of intense vertigo.

 

“You need to rest, kid,” Seungwan says, coming over to Seulgi to help hold Donghyuck up.

 

“I just-- wanna make sure he’s okay--” Donghyuck manages to gasp out.

 

Intensive healing is always a nightmare on his body. Belladonna is inarguably the worst thing that could happen to a werewolf, and the most difficult to heal. He’s only had to do this once before, when he was younger, and the poison hadn’t spread as far. It still knocked him out for a day and a half.

 

“Donghyuck--” Seulgi warns, but Donghyuck’s already tugging himself away, forcing himself to slowly make his way up the stairs, despite the urge to collapse and just vomit. They’ve situated Chenle in one of the guest rooms on the second floor, so Donghyuck manages to make it without too much difficulty.

 

The room is lit with what looks like a hundred red candles, made of sage, burdock, and witch hazel, for blood purification and restoration. They’re set on every available surface-- the nightstand, the windowsill, the floor, and in a circle around the bed. In the corner, Johnny is quietly trying to talk Jisung down, who is still in a state of half-shift from the distress. Jisung won’t take his eyes off of his friend, lying there, helpless.

 

Chenle looks like a corpse, pale and unmoving. It doesn’t even look like he’s breathing. But that’s the potion’s doing. It’ll freeze his body temporarily-- until Donghyuck can gather his strength and continue to heal him. It’ll take several days, if Donghyuck is lucky. But he understands the fear in Jisung’s eyes. The mistrust, the doubt.

 

The fear.

 

“You shouldn’t be here,” Joohyun says, voice stern, as she appears in the doorway. “You need to rest.”

 

Donghyuck smiles blandly at her, knowing she won’t lecture him, not in this state, anyway. He takes the mug of tea she hands him and drinks it. The calming effect of the tea washes over him. It feels like all his muscles have been coiled tight to the point of cramping, and he can relax them again.

 

“Yeah yeah,” Donghyuck mumbles, satisfied now that he’s seen that Chenle is okay with his own two eyes. He ambles out of the room. Joohyun is right behind him, undoubtedly ready to catch him in case he falls.

 

Somehow, he makes it to his room and flops down on the bed face first. He barely registers Joohyun tugging the covers over his body and stroking his hair.

 

“Do you think we’ll catch the Hunters who did this?” Donghyuck mumbles, already halfway asleep.

 

“I don’t know baby, but we’ll try our best.”

 

“I want them to die,” he says.

 

Joohyun strokes his cheek. “I’ll do everything in my power to make sure it hurts when they do.”

 

The corner of Donghyuck’s lips tug up. “Good.” And then it all goes dark.



Donghyuck feels like he’s on fire. His whole body is paralyzed, locked in a vice like grip, and he can’t breathe. His clothes are soaked with sweat, limbs numb, and he thinks he might throw up at any moment.

 

He allows himself two seconds of sheer panic before wrenching his eyes open, desperately trying to assess the situation. What he finds is an arm around his waist and another around his shoulder, gripping him so tightly that he couldn’t move if he tried.

 

“What the-- Yukhei? ” Donghyuck chokes out, trying to lift his, but he has very little mobility when he’s pressed up against Yukhei like this. He tries to wriggle himself free, with no luck. He fatigues quickly, the exertion from last night dragging down his limbs, and he flops down against Yukhei’s chest, giving up for the moment.

 

Donghyuck has a lot of questions, the first and most pressing being how the hell did Yukhei get into his room? The stupid teenage boy part if him is slightly embarrassed because his room is a total disaster and this is the first time Yukhei’s seen it. He would have liked to make a good impression. He also would have liked to be conscious.

 

The second question then becomes how the hell does he get out? Because he really needs to pee and Joohyun could walk into his room any moment and potentially catch them in this highly compromising position and--

 

“What the fuck--“ Donghyuck shrieks, when Yukhei’s eyes snap wide open, and he renews his struggle to get out of Yukhei’s hold.

 

“Sorry! sorry--“ Yukhei mumbles, unlocking his arms and Donghyuck sits up immediately, scooting away. He becomes distinctly aware of the fact that he’s covered in sweat (it’s not his fault Yukhei’s a fucking furnace) and that he hadn’t brushed his teeth last night.

 

“That was so fucking creepy--“ Donghyuck wheezes. Yukhei pushes himself up slowly into a sitting position, and Donghyuck doesn’t miss the way he winces as he moves, the way the skin under his eyes is bruised. “What happened to you? When did you get back?”

 

Yukhei runs a hand through his hair, like he’s trying to recollect everything. “I got back like--“ He glances at the alarm clock on the nightstand, “--two hours ago?” Donghyuck blinks. “We were patrolling all night, trying to find any other…” Survivors, Yukhei doesn’t say. He doesn’t need to.

 

“Any Hunters?”

 

“Jaehyun found one… he’s pretty badly injured and won’t talk but,” Yukhei shrugs, trying very hard to seem unbothered, but there’s so much tension in his body that even Donghyuck feels on edge. “It’ll be fine.”

 

“Okay,” Donghyuck nods, not wanting to question any further because Yukhei looks like he’s wilting. He reaches forward to stroke his fingers down Yukhei’s cheek comfortingly. “Go back to sleep.”

 

Yukhei nods blearily. “How’s Chenle, by the way?”

 

Donghyuck shrugs. “He’s stabilized for now. There’s a lot of work to do but we’ll figure it out. Just rest for now.”

 

“Mkay,” Yukhei says, yawning widely right afterwards, and slides back under the covers. Donghyuck lets himself have a moment to appreciate the sight of Yukhei in his bed before he shakes that thought out of his head.

 

He only gives himself a few minutes to brush his teeth and shower, the urgency of the situation at hand starting to build up again, a tight anxiety growing in the pit of his stomach. Once he’s presentable, he heads downstairs, pausing halfway when he takes in the state of the house.

 

There are lots of people milling around, striding in and out the door, talking to each other in quiet, serious tones. Donghyuck recognizes mostly all of them-- warrior clans from around the area, a few werewolves from Johnny’s pack, and, surprisingly, a few Fae, though they keep mostly to themselves, standing aside from everyone else.

 

They all stop what they’re doing when they notice Donghyuck, and even after all this time, the collective attention makes his skin itch. He puts on a neutral expression, squares his shoulders, and nods at everyone, before coming down the rest of the way. People part automatically as he moves past them, whether from reverence or intimidation, Donghyuck will never know. Right now, he just wants to find Joohyun and Johnny and get brought up to speed on the situation, before he focuses his attention on Chenle.

 

He finds them in the kitchen, along with Kun, Seulgi, and Sicheng Dong, a representative for the local Fae community. They look like they’ve been up all night. Johnny, in particular, looks worse for wear, staring blankly into a coffee mug.

 

Donghyuck stands at the threshold and clears his throat.

 

“Donghyuck,” Joohyun says, striding up to him and pressing the back of her hand to his forehead. “Did you sleep alright? How are you feeling?”

 

“I’m fine,” Donghyuck says, letting her fret if it’ll get rid of some of the nervous energy buzzing around her. After he manages to extricate himself from her hold, he slides into the seat at the counter next to Johnny.

 

“Hey kid,” Johnny says, shoulders sagging with exhaustion. Donghyuck smiles, but it likely comes out a grimace.

 

“Hey. How’s everything?”

 

Johnny shrugs. “My pack is all accounted for. We couldn’t save anyone from the attack, but we found an injured Hunter. He’s being interrogated now.”

 

“Yeah, Yukhei told me.” At the mention of Yukhei, Johnny looks up to smile sheepishly at Donghyuck.

 

“Ah yeah. He got back not too long ago. Joohyun offered him a room but he was so dead on his feet he ended up ignoring everyone sniffing his way to your room. I didn’t have the heart to make him move. Hope that’s okay.”

 

“That’s fine--” Donghyuck says, maybe too quickly. Luckily Johnny is too exhausted to notice. They fall into a comfortable silence, and Donghyuck takes the moment to observe Sicheng and Kun talking in a corner. He doesn’t have much time to wonder why the Fae are here when last night was a werewolf attack, because Seulgi is putting a plate of food in front of him and pressing a kiss to his head.

 

“Thanks,” he remembers to say, before digging in. He’s always voracious when he’s drained all his energy healing, and he’s going to need all the fuel he can get when he gets up to Chenle after he’s done eating.

 

“Okay, we worked out a patrol plan,” Yeri says, walking in and setting down what Donghyuck recognizes as her favorite crossbow right in front of his plate. There’s fresh blood staining it. “Took a million hours to do it because apparently some people have better things to do--”

 

“Yeri,” Joohyun says sternly. Everyone purposely avoids Sicheng’s gaze. Donghyuck remembers that Fae are fairly isolated from the rest of the supernatural community. Their magic is powerful and extremely useful during times of turmoil, but they rarely want to use it, which is something Donghyuck doesn’t agree with. Is the situation worse than he thought, if the Fae have been forced to get involved?

 

Yeri switches her attention to Donghyuck then. “How’re you feeling?”

 

“Alright,” Donghyuck says, between mouthfuls of food. “What’s going on?”

 

“Since a lot of shit’s been going down lately, we have to assume the Hunters are planning something big. So more security, everything’s on lockdown.”

 

Donghyuck frowns. “Have there been more attacks?”

 

“We got news from up north about a few apothecaries run by witches being raided. Obviously you know about Taeyong’s coven but another one on the east coast has also disappeared. No one’s seen them since.”

 

It takes a lot for Donghyuck to swallow his current mouthful of food and not vomit everything right back up. The more time passes, the clearer it becomes that the Hunters are leading up to war. The losses have already been devastating. He doesn’t know how Jisung will process that everyone is gone-- Donghyuck can’t imagine how the younger boy will feel if Chenle can’t be saved.

 

His anxiety must show on his face, because Yeri pulls him into a tight hug. Donghyuck presses his face into her neck, wishing for the familiar scent of strawberry shampoo and perfume, but only smelling sweat and dirt and the metallic sharpness of blood. She’s been working hard, and Donghyuck has to do his part too. It’s the only way to stop more bloodshed and pain.

 

“It’s gonna be okay. We’re gonna kick ass,” Yeri murmurs into Donghyuck’s hair. In the last year or so, Donghyuck’s become taller than her, but with her arms tight around him, Donghyuck feels small and safe.

 

“I should go check on Chenle,” Donghyuck says, after a minute. Yeri pulls back and ruffles his hair. The gesture is familiar enough to ground him. Everything is in total chaos, but he believes in his family and his friends, and their ability to protect what’s important.

 

“Get some sleep big guy,” Donghyuck says, patting Johnny’s back, and taking his plate to the sink. He’s about to wash it when Joohyun takes it out of his hands. “But--”

 

“I’ll let you off easy this time,” she says with a small smile.

 

“Why can’t you be this nice when I have homework?” Donghyuck laments as he walks out of the kitchen. He can hear Joohyun laughing behind him, and clings onto that as he makes his way back upstairs. The way everyone pauses when they see him continues to be unsettling, but Donghyuck squares his shoulders and marches forward.

 

When Donghyuck steps into Chenle’s room, he’s not entirely surprised to see Jisung curled up beside him in the bed. He’s fast asleep, and doesn’t stir when Donghyuck shuts the door behind him, or when he approaches the bedside.

 

Chenle looks near death. The statis potion had kept him hanging on by a thread through the night, freezing the path of the belladonna in its path before it spread to his most vital organs. The next few days won’t be easy, Donghyuck knows. But he has to try his very best.

 

So he settles down on the vacant side of the bed, legs crossed, and presses his palms to Chenle’s abdomen, where he had been stabbed with the poison-laced dagger. Donghyuck centers himself and his mind, drawing up his magic from his core, and gets to work.



Shhh, be quiet you ass.”

 

“You do realize your shushing was louder than anything I said, right?”

 

“He’s sleeping, can you both just be quiet?”

 

Donghyuck groans, rolling onto his side. Unfortunately, he knows those voices anywhere.

 

“Fuck, now he’s awake. Nice going, you two.” Good to know Jeno’s still in his corner. The bickering makes Donghyuck smile, unable to help it, and he peels his eyes open. “Hey, Hyuckie,” Jeno’s voice comes soft as he pats Donghyuck’s side.

 

“Hi,” Donghyuck croaks. He’s awake now, but that bone-deep fatigue is still there. All he’s been doing is healing and sleeping, on and off. A quick peek at the alarm clock on his nightstand tells him it’s a little past four in the afternoon now. He’s also pretty sure it’s Monday. Or is it Tuesday?


“How are you feeling?” Renjun asks, sitting opposite Jeno on the bed. Donghyuck peers up at him and shrugs.

 

“‘M tired,” he says.

 

“You should rest more,” Jaemin says, spinning around in Donghyuck’s chair, but pausing to look at him. “We just wanted to see if we could do anything to help right now.”

 

“Unless you suddenly developed an affinity for healing, there’s not much,” Donghyuck grouses, pushing himself up. “They might want you for patrols though.”

 

“Already tried, mom said no,” Jaemin says, the scowl on his face making it clear he’s not happy with that decision. “She just wants us to keep training. What’s the point of learning it if you can’t even use it to help people?”

 

“You won’t be of any help if you get yourself killed,” Renjun points out, and Jaemin rolls his eyes, going back to spinning around. “We don’t know how bad it is yet.”

 

“It’s pretty bad, even I can tell that,” Jeno says, and Renjun throws him a sharp look that Donghyuck chooses to ignore. He doesn’t tell them that he already knows the extent of the chaos right now. He can see it in the dark circles under Johnny’s eyes, the tightness of Yukhei’s smile when he came back from patrols in the middle of the night. Donghyuck hasn’t had time to be filled in on the details or new developments, but he knows it’s probably bad.

 

“How are those kids? The ones you and Yukhei found in the woods?” Jaemin asks.

 

“It’s touch-and-go right now with Chenle,” Donghyuck says. “Sometimes it feels like it feels like two steps forward, three steps back. It’s just a lot. And Jisung constantly hovers around me, like he’s gonna snap my neck if Chenle even looks like he’s in pain.” It’s been overwhelming, and eventually he’d asked Johnny to remove Jisung from the room while Donghyuck was there.

 

“I feel so bad for them,” Jeno says quietly. “I can’t imagine what they’re going through.” He reaches out to squeeze Donghyuck’s hand. “I know you’re trying your best.”

 

Donghyuck gives him a small smile, grateful for the support. It’s quiet for a while, all four of them lost in their own thoughts. Before long, the air is turning thick with tension and anxiety, and as much as he loves his friends, Donghyuck feels like their presence right now is just making things worse.

 

“Anyways, homecoming tickets are going on sale,” Renjun says, changing the subject. The sudden shift throws Donghyuck, and he blinks at his friend owlishly. With everything happening around him in the supernatural realm, he’d forgotten that things were happening in the mundane part of his life.

 

“Homecoming? Really Junnie?”

 

Renjun frowns. “What? It’s our senior year, dances are important cultural events.”

 

“Babe, I love you, but people are literally being massacred right now,” Jaemin says.

 

Renjun shoots him an irritated look. “I know that, but there’s nothing that we can do about that right now. If they need our help, of course that takes precedence. But can’t we have something to look forward to? One night where we can be normal and just enjoy ourselves?”

 

“Are dances really that fun?” Jeno wonders.

 

“It’s not about the dance, it’s who you go with,” Renjun says sagely. “I think it’d be a really good distraction for all of us.” He looks at everyone pointedly, and is met with silence. He sighs. “Anyways, it’s in three weeks. You have time to decide if it’s something you wanna do. Just remember, this week tickets are the cheapest.”

 

That makes Donghyuck crack a smile. Renjun is so ridiculously pragmatic, it’s nice to know some things will never change.

 

“Buying pair tickets is the smartest option, but they won’t do it for three,” Renjun forges ahead.

 

“Why don’t we just buy two sets of pair tickets and give one to Hyuck?” Jaemin suggests, finally stopping spinning and looking a little green.  

 

“I’m not going to be your fourth wheel at homecoming,” Donghyuck protests. He loves his friends, and for the most part, being around them is totally fine. But there’s something too inherently romantic about a dance, and Donghyuck doesn’t want to just sit around, hoping.

 

“That won’t work cuz Donghyuck is going with Yukhei,” Renjun says so matter-of-factly that Donghyuck almost misses the words.

 

What? ” He, Jeno, and Jaemin say at the same time.

 

Renjun frowns at them, annoyed that they’re obviously not on the same page as him. “What?”

 

“Why would Yukhei-- How could you think--” Donghyuck blubbers, face heating up. He’s too tired for this. He doesn’t have the mental capacity to process.

 

“Why wouldn’t he take you to the dance? You guys are practically dating.”

 

“We’re not-- dating-- ” Donghyuck chokes out.

 

“Okay, but you’ll make it official soon, right?”

 

“I don’t know? We haven’t really had time to talk about it?”

 

“Interesting,” Renjun muses. Then, he shrugs. “Well, you should ask him about it. You know, later. When things aren’t like. Nuts.”

 

Donghyuck just gives a vague shrug. Jeno shoots him a look of sympathy, before looking at his boyfriends and saying, “We should probably just buy three individual tickets. That way it’s just fair.”

 

That starts up the bickering again, and Donghyuck lets himself slide back under the covers and drift off, his friends’ voices lulling him to sleep. He doesn’t notice the way the crescent moon on his wrist glows.



On Wednesday afternoon, the last of Chenle’s organ damage heals.

 

Donghyuck feels the tissue reconnecting, starting to pulse with life under his hands. Sooyoung is there in a heartbeat to slip a blood-replenishing potion past Chenle’s chapped lips, and another for deep sleep.

 

“What’s happening?” Jisung asks, his blood-shot eyes wide with panic as Sooyoung hovers over Chenle’s motionless body while Donghyuck slips out of the bed. “Is he okay?”

 

“He’ll be fine,” Donghyuck assures, for the first time. He hadn’t allowed himself to hope all this time-- only to concentrate on trying his best. Given the absolute horrors Jisung has gone through, Donghyuck wasn’t going add false hope to that list.

 

“W-why isn’t he waking up then?” Jisung looks like he’s going to cry. He’s been doing a lot of that, and sometimes it doesn’t help Donghyuck’s concentration, but he really doesn’t have the heart to kick Jisung out.

 

“Chenle’s not gonna wake up for a few days at least. It’ll actually probably be closer to a week,” Donghyuck says, picking up the jar on the nightstand, full of viscous black belladonna and all the cells in Chenle’s body that could not be saved. He’ll ask Seungwan to burn it later. “His body is in shock from the trauma and needs to recover.” He reaches out to pat Jisung’s shoulder. “Just give him time, he’ll come back to you.”

 

Jisung gives him the slightest of nods, eyes still glued to Chenle, and Donghyuck knows nothing else can be done. So he leaves the room as quietly as he can, trying to stave off the headache as he heads downstairs.

 

There are still more people milling around that Donghyuck is comfortable with. Although there isn’t the same sense of urgency as before, everyone still looks grim and serious. The tension weighs down the air, and Donghyuck feels especially susceptible to the dark energy as he walks through the house.

 

He finds his family, along with Johnny and Yukhei, sitting close together in the living room. Yukhei is the first to notice him, and gets up immediately, going up to Donghyuck and wrapping him in his arms. Donghyuck all but melts, burrowing his face into Yukhei’s chest, and god, nothing has ever felt quite so right in his life.

 

“Careful,” he mumbles, trying to keep the jar in his hands from touching Yukhei’s skin. The lid is screwed on tightly, but he doesn’t want to take any risks.

 

“How are you feeling?”

 

“Like I’m gonna puke my brain out of my nostrils,” Donghyuck answers honestly, stepping back to look at Yukhei properly for the first time in days. His hair is unkempt, eyes drooping with exhaustion. Donghyuck has been peripherally aware that Yukhei’s been taking on patrol shifts this week, so it’s likely they’re equally exhausted.

 

“Nicely put,” Yukhei says, the corner of his mouth twitching up. He looks so tired, but his eyes still hold this warmth, and Donghyuck wants to think that it’s something Yukhei saves only for him. Donghyuck wishes that they could just keep staring at each other for a while, but Johnny clears his throat from his spot on the couch, and they’re snapped out of it.

 

“I uhm--” Donghyuck’s ears feel hot. “Is Seungwan around? Need her to get rid of this,” he explains, holding up the jar of poison.

 

Seulgi is the one to walk up to Donghyuck. “Seungwan left with Taeyong earlier today. They have a potential lead and they’re following up.” She takes the jar gingerly out of Donghyuck’s hands. “I’ll take care of this, baby.”

 

“Thanks,” Donghyuck mumbles, letting Seulgi press a kiss to his hair and she walks out into the backyard, where she’ll probably start lighting a bonfire.

 

“Can I make you some tea?” Joohyun is the next one to assess him, her eyes wide and concerned as she checks Donghyuck, as if he’d sustained bodily injuries. Donghyuck nods. “You should go to sleep right after. Take the next few days to rest.”

 

“Actually I--” Donghyuck hazards a glance at her and Johnny. “I was hoping to go to school tomorrow.”

 

“What? No.”

 

Donghyuck blinks up at Yukhei in surprise. “What?”

 

“You’re not going to school. Not until we know it’s safe.” Yukhei looks like a stranger in that moment, face serious, lips pursed in frustration.

 

“I’m sorry but since when do you get to tell me what to do?” Silence. Everyone in the room seems to realize all at once that they have other places to be, because the space clears out fast. Johnny mumbles something about forgetting something in the kitchen, and trails after Joohyun, sending the two teenagers wary glances over his shoulder.

 

“Yukhei? What the hell?” Donghyuck can’t help the annoyance that bleeds into his voice.

 

“It’s not safe, Donghyuck. Hunters are unpredictable, you never know--”

 

“You think they’d attack me in school? They’re terrible but they’re not that stupid.”

 

“Clearly they’re not above slaughtering innocent people for their sick objectives, if you haven’t already seen.”

 

Donghyuck narrows his eyes. “Don’t condescend me.”

 

“I’m not trying to--” Yukhei closes his eyes and sighs. Through his haze of annoyance, Donghyuck can see how much the events of this weekend are weighing on Yukhei, more so than he anticipated. “I’m not trying to condescend you. It’s just-- I can’t-- Nothing can happen to you. Do you understand?”

 

“Nothing will happen to me, Yukhei. I’ve been training all my life for this, I know how to protect myself.” Donghyuck doesn’t know how Yukhei doesn’t get that. He’s suddenly reminded of the cocky asshole that Yukhei was at the beginning, annoyingly trying to assert himself into every situation.

 

Yukhei grabs Donghyuck’s wrist, and he has half a mind to snatch his hand back, just to be difficult, but Yukhei’s got an iron grip on him, raising both their wrists so that their marks are side by side. “I have a duty to you. I’ll protect you with my life. But part of that is also making sure that you’re not put in unnecessarily dangerous situations where I have to protect you.”

 

“I don’t want you to protect me. A stupid mark on a wrist doesn’t mean you have to jump in front of bullets--” And Donghyuck knows he’s said something terribly wrong when Yukhei’s whole face goes dark, and then scarily blank. Yukhei drops Donghyuck’s wrist and Donghyuck hates that he misses the contact immediately.

 

“It’s not stupid. It means something to me, even if it doesn’t to you.” To anyone else, Yukhei’s voice might sound perfectly even, but Donghyuck’s spent the last month becoming intimately acquainted with the nuances that make up Yukhei, and he knows deep down that Yukhei is hurting. Donghyuck feels gutted.

 

“I’ll pick you up in the morning,” Yukhei says, voice flat, before brushing past Donghyuck. Donghyuck doesn’t turn, doesn’t run after him, battling a sudden wave of nausea that makes him drop to his knees on the floor. The mark on his wrist flares angrily with heat, and he doesn’t know what to do.

 

Joohyun finds him like this, and takes him to bed. Donghyuck is out before his head even hits the pillow, and he falls into a dark, dreamless sleep.



The drive to school is tense and awkward. It makes tears prickle at the back of Donghyuck’s eyes, because he hates this, knowing he hurt Yukhei but not knowing why, and being too cowardly to ask. Yukhei looks like he hasn’t slept at all, like the weight of the world is resting heavy on his shoulders. Donghyuck wants to talk but every time he opens his mouth, nothing comes out.

 

It probably was, in fact, a bad idea to go to school. Donghyuck’s fatigue is bone-deep, to the point where even inhaling and exhaling feel like Herculean tasks. Every time he blinks, it takes more energy to force his eyelids to stay open. But he stubbornly refuses to call it quits, because he’s already had his argument with Yukhei and if he goes home it’ll feel like it was for nothing.

 

Second period English is the only class he shares with Yukhei. He feels a strange sense of deja vu as he plucks up the courage to walk to Yukhei’s desk and sit down in the vacant seat in front of him. Yukhei stares at him blankly, and it throws Donghyuck so off-kilter that he almost runs back to his own seat again. But no, Joohyun didn’t raise Donghyuck to run from his problems.

 

“Seulgi baked muffins this morning,” Donghyuck says quietly. He puts the container down on Yukhei’s desk. “They’re blueberry. I know you like those.”

 

“I’m not hungry.”

 

Donghyuck blinks at Yukhei owlishly. “But… you’re always hungry,” he tries to joke, but it falls flat when Yukhei doesn’t react. “You should try one anyway,” he soldiers on, opening the container to take out a muffin and put it down on Yukhei’s desk. “You’re a growing boy.”

 

More silence. Donghyuck kind of wants to melt into the ground. “Okay, I’m gonna go back to my seat. Just… let me know if you want more.” He gets up, and it distinctly feels like the walk of shame as he heads back to Jeno, who’s frowning at the whole interaction.

 

“That didn’t look good.”

 

Donghyuck grimaces. “Yeah,” is all he says. Yukhei is always so enthusiastic, so full of life, and always, without fail, happy to see Donghyuck. It’s sobering to realize he shouldn’t have taken that granted. Yukhei has limits too, and yesterday, Donghyuck had evidently crossed a huge line. He doesn’t know what to do, but he hopes Yukhei will talk to him soon. Donghyuck doesn’t want to live in a world where Yukhei isn’t by his side.



At lunch, Yukhei pokes Donghyuck’s side. He’d been sitting at Donghyuck’s side quietly, like a sentinel, the whole time. Donghyuck has another surge of deja vu, remembering that very one-sided conversation they’d had about star signs and compatibility. Yukhei had seemed like he was trying to tell Donghyuck something really important, but even now, he’s at a loss.

 

Donghyuck almost jumps out of his bones, having resigned himself to sitting with a zombie. With wide eyes, he looks at Yukhei, who looks at the container of muffins on the table. Jaemin and Jeno had devoured most of them, but Donghyuck had guarded the remaining few on the off chance that Yukhei might want them.

 

“Can I have another?” There’s a flash of something sheepish in his eyes, something so essentially Yukhei, that the anxiety bubbling under Donghyuck’s skin abates for the first time today.

 

“Of course--” Donghyuck scrambles to open the lid and hold the container out. “Have as many as you want. I saved them for you.”

 

“Thanks,” Yukhei says, and takes the muffins, cradling them to his chest like he’s holding a baby. The knot in Donghyuck’s chest unwinds, and he feels like he can breathe. He wants to reach out and touch Yukhei, to run his fingers through his hair and offer comfort, but he knows it won’t be welcome yet. But soon. Donghyuck can sense it. The way Yukhei inhales the food in front of him feels a little bit like forgiveness.


 

“Are you coming in?” Donghyuck asks, once Yukhei’s pulled into the driveway of his house and turned off the engine.

 

“Yeah,” Yukhei says. “Need to check in for patrols.”

 

Donghyuck bites his lip. “Is that a good idea?” Yukhei shoots him an irritated look. “I mean-- you have a football game on Friday. You need to rest.”

 

“No, I need to help as much as I can. How is a football game more important than this?” Yukhei’s tone is accusing, and Donghyuck realizes he’s in very dangerous territory.

 

“I mean-- if the school’s quarterback goes missing, don’t you think it’ll attract suspicion?” Donghyuck tries. “The reason we’re so well protected is because we hide in plain sight. If we don’t keep up appearances that everything is normal, it’s like a big red flag for Hunters, don’t you think?”

 

Yukhei stares out the window, face unreadable, but he radiates unhappiness. Donghyuck stews in the sudden escalation of tension until Yukhei opens his door and gets out of the car, slamming it closed with far more force than necessary. Donghyuck scrambles to follow him inside, anxiety bubbling in his gut.

 

Since the news of Chenle’s recovery had passed through the community, some of the tension had abated. The house isn’t a den of chaos anymore, though there are a handful of people milling around the foyer, talking to Yeri.

 

“Do you want to see Chenle?” Donghyuck asks, despite himself. Yukhei is agitated, and he looks like he’s going to say no. “You’re part of the reason he’s even alive right now. Don’t you want to see how he’s doing?” Sunday morning was the last time Yukhei had even gone upstairs. He’d stayed away from Chenle like the plague, when Donghyuck was so sure he’d be hovering at the doorway whenever he had a chance. It doesn’t make any sense.

 

“I-- Okay.” Yukhei sighs, rubbing at his eyes furiously. Donghyuck really doesn’t know what to make of Yukhei’s behavior these days, especially today, and he wants to ask, but doesn’t know if it’s his place. So he just nods and heads up the stairs, Yukhei a few steps behind him.

 

Donghyuck knocks on Chenle’s door before opening it slowly. He’s not surprised to see Jisung sitting at his bedside, holding Chenle’s hand between his own and staring at him like the force of his gaze will somehow wake Chenle up. Jisung is a little too intense for Donghyuck’s tastes, but he has to admit the kid has dedication.

 

“Hey, bud. How’s it going?” Donghyuck asks, slipping his backpack off his shoulders and tossing it in a corner.

 

“Okay,” Jisung says, before perking up when he sees Yukhei at the doorway. “Hello!” Donghyuck blinks, because that’s the most animated he’s ever seen Jisung.

 

Yukhei stands at the threshold awkwardly, clutching at the straps of his backpack. “Hey.”

 

Donghyuck frowns, looking between the two. “Jisung, you remember Yukhei right? I mean, you met him when he was all wolfed out, but you know.”

 

“If it wasn’t for you, Chenle would be dead,” Jisung addresses Yukhei directly, and Donghyuck’s mouth opens in offense because he’s fairly sure he did most of the heavy lifting in this situation. But there’s something akin to hero worship in the younger boy’s eyes as he gazes at Yukhei. “I never got to thank you.”

 

“Oh uh--” Yukhei’s eyes dart around the room, not quite sure where to settle. He looks like he wants to curl into himself. “It was nothing. I really didn’t do anything.”

 

“Of course you did,” Jisung insists. “If it wasn’t for you, I’d--” He looks down at his lap, frowning. “I’d have no one. Chenle is all I have left.”

 

Donghyuck is sure Jisung doesn’t notice, but it feels like the room plunges ten degrees. Yukhei’s eyes are a storm, and his bottom lip quivers for a split second, before he composes himself. “I uh--” He glances at Donghyuck, swallowing thickly. “I’m gonna just-- be downstairs.” Then he turns on his heel and leaves so fast Donghyuck barely has time to process what happened.

 

The mark on his wrist burns, and Donghyuck cradles his hand to his chest, thumbing at the skin and wishing for some sort of clarity because he really has no idea what’s going on. Yukhei had always seemed so simple to him before, and now he seems like the biggest mystery. The uncertainty is killing him.

 

“Is your mark acting up?” Jisung asks, abruptly bringing Donghyuck out of his thoughts.

 

He frowns. “How did you know?”

 

Jisung tilts his head, looking at Donghyuck like he’s stupid. “Well, he’s your soulmate, isn’t he?”

 

Donghyuck blinks at Jisung, brain feeling like molasses as he attempts to process those words. “Excuse me?”

 

Jisung reaches out, baring his wrist for Donghyuck to see. The skin is unmistakably marked with three intersecting triangles. He then turns Chenle’s hand gently to show an identical mark. “Normally you get this when you have your coming of age, but we’ve always been kinda weird. We knew we were soulmates since we were kids.”

 

Donghyuck’s hands are shaking. “Y-Yukhei told me-- he said something about our destinies? Like his fate is to protect me.”

 

Jisung shrugs, like it’s no big deal. “I mean, yeah. A werewolf will protect their mate until their dying breath. There’s really no point in living if your soulmate isn’t there.” He looks at Chenle when he says it, and in any other situation, Donghyuck might have made a snide comment about young love, but he’s too caught up in his own emotions to really say anything.

 

He can’t decide if he’s angry at Yukhei for lying, or absolutely stunned that the universe chose him, of all people, as Yukhei’s soulmate.

 

Both, he decides. He’s both furious and elated, the sting of betrayal soothed by the flare of hope that’s suddenly ignited in him.

 

“I--” Donghyuck starts, then closes his mouth. He’d come up here to check on Chenle, to cast a diagnostic spell to make sure everything is healed as it should be, but Donghyuck is so unfocused that he knows he’ll probably accidentally set the whole house on fire if he tries to use his powers right now.

 

“I need to--” Donghyuck gestures vaguely at the door, and Jisung raises his eyebrows in what is probably judgement, but Donghyuck really can’t bring himself to care. He turns on his heels and runs out, nearly tripping on the stairs as he rushes down them, and whips his head around, frantically looking for a sign of Yukhei.

 

Through the window, Donghyuck can see his ridiculous car still parked in the driveway, so Yukhei has to be somewhere in the house. He hastily dodges the people in his path as he walks down the hall, ducking his head into every room for that familiar head of blonde-brunette, but coming up empty.

 

“Mom,” Donghyuck all but gasps out when he sees Joohyun in the kitchen. Joohyun raises an eyebrow at him, concerned for his flustered state. Donghyuck takes a gulp of hair before asking, “Have you seen Yukhei?”

 

“Is something wrong?”

 

Donghyuck shakes his head. “Just-- have you seen him?”

 

Joohyun narrows her eyes, analyzing the situation, and Donghyuck knows he’ll have to explain everything later. “I think I saw him heading towards the backyard.”

 

“Thanks,” he huffs, turning on his heel and striding in that direction. Through the glass, Donghyuck can see Yukhei’s hunched form on the steps, and he slides the door open, fully ready to give Yukhei an earful. Of what, he’s not entirely sure, something along the lines of explain yourself.

 

“What are you--” Donghyuck starts, then stops immediately.

 

Now that he’s closer, he can see that Yukhei is curled into himself, arms wrapped around his legs and head pressed to his knees. His shoulders are shaking, and everything Donghyuck wanted to say evaporates.

 

“Yukhei?” he asks slowly, going down the steps and turning to face Yukhei directly. He kneels on the lower step and reaches out, running a hand carefully through Yukhei’s hair. At the contact, Yukhei looks up, and god, there are tears streaming down his face, eyes red and swollen, and he looks so distressed that Donghyuck’s own eyes start burning.

 

His heart is beating so fast, the cloud of emotions in Yukhei’s eyes overwhelming him. He cups Yukhei’s face in his hands, using his thumbs to wipe at tears on his cheeks. Donghyuck doesn’t know why the pet name slips out, maybe it’s because Joohyun uses it so often to comfort him that he feels right using it with Yukhei in this moment.  

 

“What’s wrong, baby?”

 

His words seem to bring on another wave of tears, and Yukhei’s face crumples. “No no no,” Donghyuck murmurs, moving closer so he can wrap himself around Yukhei, letting him press his face into Donghyuck’s hoodie. “It’s okay, everything’s okay.”

 

“No it’s not,” are the garbled words that Yukhei says into Donghyuck’s chest. “Nothing’s okay. Nothing’s right.”

 

Donghyuck feels nauseous with worry but he swallows it down and tries to stay calm. “Tell me what’s wrong. Let’s talk about it.” Yukhei’s fingers curl into the fabric of Donghyuck’s jacket and he shakes and shakes and he looks so small. Donghyuck doesn’t know what to do.

 

“Me,” Yukhei sobs out. “I’m w-wrong.”

 

Donghyuck almost launches into a heated defense, but dials himself back before he can start. He swallows down the words and pets Yukhei’s hair instead. “Why do you feel that way?”

 

Yukhei nuzzles into Donghyuck’s stomach, like he’s seeking comfort in the touch, and Donghyuck lets him. “I’m just-- I can’t do anything right. No matter what, people keep dying and I can’t protect any of them and I can’t even protect you and I hate that I feel so useless and I fucking hate Hunters and I want them all to die and I want to kill them all myself and I--”

 

Yukhei leans back to take a huge gulp of air but he seems to choke on it, face screwed up in pain, and Donghyuck shushes him, stroking his face and pushing the hair off of his forehead, damp with sweat and tears.

 

“Chenle and Jisung are alive because of you,” Donghyuck says gently. “They wouldn’t be here right now if we didn’t get to them quickly enough, if you didn’t go get help. Do you remember?”

 

“No,” Yukhei shakes his head. “You healed Chenle. You’re the one who knew something was wrong--”

 

“And that’s my job, ” Donghyuck reminds him. “I’ve trained my whole life so that only I can do stuff like that. You helped in every way you could. You got me there in time to help. You went and got the others. You stayed back and helped get your pack to safety and helped look for survivors. And you’ve been running so many patrol shifts that I’m pretty sure you haven’t slept in days.”

 

Yukhei winces. “I haven’t--”

 

Donghyuck pins him with a look. “Yes, you have. I know I haven’t been around much lately but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been paying attention to what you’re doing. You’re spreading yourself so thin, because you’re trying so hard. You’re doing your best.”

 

“But it’s not--” Yukhei chokes up, and he ducks his head. “It’s not good enough. My best isn’t good enough.”

 

“But it is, ” Donghyuck insists, cupping Yukhei’s jaw to tilt his head up, so their eyes can meet. “Look at me. I’m safe, aren’t I? We went to school, and nothing happened to me.”

 

Yukhei shakes his head again. “No, you don’t understand I-- I spent the whole time just so fucking paranoid that something would happen to you, I don’t know what I would have done if--” He doesn’t finish his sentence, just presses his face into Donghyuck’s stomach again.

 

“You would have been there for me,” Donghyuck murmurs, stroking the back of Yukhei’s neck. “Like you always have. Like with that Hunter, at the beginning. And even now. No one is doubting you, Yukhei.” He leans in to kiss Yukhei’s head. “I know when the time comes, you’ll be able to protect the people you love. I’m sure of it.”

 

Yukhei doesn’t say anything for a minute, just sniffling into Donghyuck’s hoodie, the lines of his shoulders finally starting to relax a little.

 

“Chenle and Jisung are like me now,” he says quietly, when he finally lifts his head. “Everyone they loved is dead.” His voice is hollow and tired. “They’re going to wonder how everyone else died and they lived.”

 

Donghyuck feels nauseous all over again. Up until now, he hadn’t been able to fully comprehend how deep-rooted Yukhei’s survivor’s guilt must be. He still can’t quite wrap his head around it-- the burden of carrying those feelings around, not feeling worthy of life. He takes a shaky breath, wiping at the tear tracks staining Yukhei’s cheeks.

 

“They’re not alone, though,” Donghyuck says. “What they-- what you -- went through, is absolutely a nightmare. I can’t imagine what the recovery process will be like for them.” Donghyuck swallows thickly and presses forward. “But they’ll have support. They’ll have a community that will take care of them and love them. And they’ll have you.”

 

Yukhei’s face morphs in confusion. “They’ll have a great big brother who they know they can talk to,” Donghyuck elaborates. “Jisung already looks up to you a lot, and I know Chenle will be the same. They’re gonna trail after you like little ducklings.” That makes the corner of Yukhei’s lips twitch up.

 

“There’s nothing anyone could have done to prevent what happened. Especially not you, so please don’t be so hard on yourself. No one blames you, no one would even think of it.” Donghyuck cups Yukhei’s face and makes sure that they’re looking each other in the eyes. “The way you can help the most is just by being you. And that’s more than most people could ever hope to be.” Donghyuck bumps their foreheads together. “Do you understand?”

 

Yukhei looks at him with wide, red-rimmed eyes, and he looks so much like a pitiful puppy that Donghyuck’s heart lurches. Finally, he nods. “Okay,” he murmurs, voice hoarse from all the crying. “Okay,” he says again, like he’s trying to believe it.

 

“Good,” Donghyuck says firmly. “Now, lets get some food in you.”

 

“It’s okay--”

 

“No, I’m pretty sure all you’ve had to eat today were those muffins. Let’s go to Pepe’s.” Donghyuck smiles softly at Yukhei’s bewildered gaze. “I’m craving burritos the size of newborn babies that’ll give me heartburn for days. Sound good?”

 

Yukhei actually does smile this time, soft and hesitant, but it does a lot to loosen the knot in Donghyuck’s chest.

 

“Sounds good.”

 


Once they’ve collected their obscenely sized burritos, Yukhei parks his truck in the middle of an abandoned shopping plaza’s parking lot, and they sit in bed, thighs and shoulders pressed together as they quietly eat their food.

 

Donghyuck makes a valiant attempt to finish his food, but only gets through one third. Yukhei is quick to inhale the rest, and it’s good to see him eat like normal, see that familiar spark in his eyes. He hadn’t realized how much he missed Yukhei being happy, and decides he’ll do anything to keep that smile on his face.

 

“Are you warm?” Yukhei asks, when Donghyuck starts squirming next to him. Donghyuck grumbles, feeling the sweat dampen the back of his neck and his chest as he tugs at his sleeves. Yukhei laughs at him. “Just take the jacket off.” He looks around the abandoned lot. “And there’s no one here.”

 

“Fine,” Donghyuck grouses, and tugs at the hem of his hoodie. Yukhei reaches out to hold Donghyuck’s t-shirt down as he pulls the jacket off, hands warm and solid against Donghyuck’s waist.

 

“There we go,” Yukhei says, eyes soft as he reaches out to pat down Donghyuck’s undeniably messy hair. Donghyuck just stays still and lets him, feeling warmer than ever, but not from the heat. As if on cue, the mark on his wrist pulses, and it reminds him of the conversation he knows they need to have.

 

“Yukhei,” Donghyuck says softly, taking Yukhei’s wrists in his hands.

 

“What’s wrong?” Yukhei asks, thrown off by Donghyuck’s sudden seriousness.

 

“I--” Donghyuck takes a shaky breath. “You probably don’t want to have this conversation right now, but we really need to talk about this, and we can’t wait.” Yukhei looks at him, eyes wide with concern. Donghyuck looks down and thumbs at the crescent moon on Yukhei’s skin. “Why did you lie about this?”

 

Yukhei tenses up immediately. “I didn’t--”

 

“Please don’t lie,” Donghyuck says softly. “Jisung told me what this means. He and Chenle share one too.”

 

Yukhei opens his mouth and closes it several times, looking conflicted. Finally, he sighs, letting his head hang down. “I just-- Back then, you didn’t like me, at all-- ” Donghyuck wants to protest, but he knows it’s true. He feels guilty for making it so obvious, especially now when he feels so much for Yukhei, knows who he is. Donghyuck of two months ago was a fool, and completely blind to what was right in front of him.

 

“Can you imagine what you would have done if I just… came up to you and was like, hey, so I know you don’t know me, but we’re soulmates?

 

“I would have told you to fuck off,” Donghyuck says, voice weak with embarrassment and guilt, but Yukhei just smiles lopsidedly at him, fiddling with their hands until their fingers are tangled together.

 

“I just thought-- I didn’t lie. It was like. A half-truth? I wanted to be closer to you. And I guess a part of me hoped that, if you got to know me better, you could like me.” Yukhei ducks his head, embarrassed.

 

“What would you have done if I decided didn’t like you?” Donghyuck feels like a sadist, asking that, but the question comes out before he can stop himself.

 

Yukhei shrugs, frowning. “I don’t know. I guess-- I just wanted to give you a choice.”

 

Donghyuck feels like he might just start crying. Where in the world did Yukhei come from and how is Donghyuck so lucky to know him? He blinks rapidly, trying not to let his emotions get the best of him. “What about you? Do you have a choice?” he asks. “I just-- it’s not fair if you think you have to like me because of this either.”

 

At that, Yukhei smiles softly. “I’ve liked you for a long time. I guess the soul mark was more like a sign from the universe to actually try to make a move.”

 

“Oh,” Donghyuck breathes, stomach fluttering with butterflies. Now that Yukhei’s said it rather bluntly, he can see all the times where Yukhei made his feelings rather obvious. That makes Donghyuck wonder if he himself was obvious enough that Yukhei knows the feelings are reciprocated.

 

“But--” Yukhei says, face serious again. “Just because you know now, I don’t want you to feel pressured into anything. When I say I’m going to be by your side, I mean it. Whether as friends or-- or something more.” His voice tapers off at the end, and he looks anywhere but at Donghyuck, ears tipped red.

 

So maybe Donghyuck wasn’t as obvious as he thought. He’ll have to correct that.

 

“What are you--” Yukhei starts, when Donghyuck scrambles into his lap. Donghyuck leans in and, startled, Yukhei leans back until the back of his head thumps against the back window of his truck.

 

“Yukhei Wong,” Donghyuck starts, cupping Yukhei’s face again. His eyes are still a little puffy from crying so much, and it reminds Donghyuck of how fragile Yukhei can be, for all his bravado. “You’re one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. How could I not like you?” Donghyuck is fairly sure he’s in love with Yukhei, but it’s too soon, he knows this.

 

Yukhei stares at him, slack-jawed in disbelief. “Really?” he squeaks, and Donghyuck laughs, pressing their foreheads together.

 

“Really. Even though you’re annoying as shit and you eat all my food--”

 

“You weren’t going to finish the burrito--”

 

“You’re one of the most hardworking, selfless people I know, and you light up every room you’re in. You’re amazing and wonderful and I’m so fucking lucky-- ” Donghyuck nearly chokes up, and he takes a sharp breath. “I’m so lucky. I hope I can treat you how you deserve.”

 

“H-Hyuck--”

 

“Shut up. Remember this moment because I’m not gonna be that fucking cheesy again for at least another year,” Donghyuck says gruffly. Yukhei smiles shakily, hands coming to wrap around Donghyuck’s waist and pull him close.

 

They stay like this for what feels like ages, suspended in this serene bubble, and Donghyuck feels like nothing could hurt him right now. It’s just him and Yukhei and the steadiness of their heartbeats, bodies pressed together.

 

Donghyuck presses his thumb lightly to Yukhei’s lower lip, brushing across the skin, and feels Yukhei’s shaky sigh against his finger. He looks up, and Yukhei’s gaze feels magnetic. Before he realizes it, their noses are pressed together, lips just a breath apart. Yukhei’s skin is warm and soft in Donghyuck’s hands, and he can’t help the way his fingers brush across his cheekbones, the hair near his temples.

 

“Are you gonna kiss me or not,” Yukhei whispers, and the moment is broken as Donghyuck snickers, half-embarrassed, half-giddy. Yukhei grins so openly at him, so wide and beautiful, that Donghyuck leans in without warning, so utterly mesmerized, and presses their lips together.

 

It feels a lot like coming home. Kissing Yukhei feels like safety and comfort and the purest kind of love. Both their lips are chapped, and Yukhei’s mouth tastes a little too much like salsa verde, but it’s perfect. Donghyuck can’t imagine anything better.

 

They break apart eventually, and Yukhei’s gaze is unfocused, eyes slightly hooded as he stares at Donghyuck’s mouth.

 

“How was it?” Donghyuck asks, biting the inside of his cheek nervously.

 

Yukhei is low to respond. “How was what.”

 

Donghyuck slaps his shoulder. “The kiss, you ass.” And then, shyly. “It was my first. Was it okay?”

 

Yukhei blinks in surprise. “That was your first kiss.” Donghyuck nods and watches in fascination as Yukhei’s smile takes over his face. “We’re each other’s first kiss?”

 

Now it’s Donghyuck’s turn to be surprised. “That was your first kiss?”

 

“Well, yeah,” Yukhei says, like it’s obvious. He leans in and presses his nose to the hollow of Donghyuck’s throat, nuzzling at the skin. Donghyuck is, evidently, ignorant of most aspects of werewolf culture but he knows scenting when he sees it. He just hopes his rapid heartbeat isn’t too obvious. “Did you think I was some playboy asshole who’s made out with half the people in our grade or something.”

 

Guilty as charged. “Well--”

 

Yukhei leans back to look up at him. “Donghyuck Lee, you really have to work on your stereotypes.”

 

Donghyuck smiles sheepishly. “I know. Sorry.” But Yukhei just shakes his head and smiles at him. Before Donghyuck can register it, Yukhei vaults them back until Donghyuck’s back hits the flatbed. He yelps, startled, but Yukhei is careful, cradling his head so he feels no impact.

 

And Donghyuck can’t recall a time when someone made him breathless, but with Yukhei hovering above him, smiling down at him like Donghyuck is his entire world, he feels entirely unable to get air into his lungs.

 

“I like you so much,” Yukhei says, looking giddy at the prospect of being able to say it so openly now. Donghyuck grins, yelping a little as Yukhei leans down to peck Donghyuck’s lips, before kissing down his neck. Donghyuck wraps his arms around Yukhei’s neck, holding him close.

 

“Me too,” he whispers, staring up at the evening sky, the pink and orange hues blending into dark blues and purples. He shivers when Yukhei tugs at the collar of his shirt to mouth at his shoulder, content to let Yukhei scent him as he pleases. Distantly, he hears a police siren, the rush of cars driving past, the wind rustling the leaves on trees. But in his bubble, with just him and Yukhei, everything is quiet and perfect.