It was a vampire den.
Bodies were crowded in the room, red light casting garish shadows over exposed skin and sleek furniture. Alcohol glimmered red in glasses. Everyone seemed to be holding a drink, letting it slosh over the sides and spill to the floor, the fruity scent almost enough to mask the pervasive smell of humanity. People swayed to smooth music played over hidden speakers, bodies in time with the rhythm. It almost looked like a normal club.
But eyes followed the movements of the dancers. Intense, inhuman eyes. And they were hungry.
Hongjoong should’ve known. He should’ve known the moment San didn’t want him to come along, when he’d made whatever reason he could think of to go alone, or with only Yunho. But Hongjoong had known him five years, and he’d put his foot down. It turned out he hadn’t known him well enough.
“We’re leaving,” said Hongjoong.
San turned to him, pouting. “But we just got here! Can’t we stay a little?”
He had dressed up, eyes lined with black and lips tinted red. It accentuated his sharp features, made him look older than his twenty-one years, older than Hongjoong. His dark red hair was parted, and with his black button-down tucked into tight black jeans, he fit in with the club atmosphere perfectly.
“Not one second longer,” said Hongjoong, shouting to be heard over the music. He fought the urge to drag San out by the back of his neck, like he had when they’d been kids and Hongjoong had been bigger than him.
“Oh, come on,” said Yunho. “He’s right, we just got here. The music’s good, and I’m in the mood for a drink.”
Hongjoong wanted to refuse, really be firm and strict. But he’d never been good at that, especially not when San looked at him with eyes all big and shiny, like he was doing right then.
“One hour,” said Hongjoong finally. “And we stick together.”
San cheered and grabbed Hongjoong in a tight hug. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said, squeezing.
Yunho joined in the hug, not really that grateful, just wanting to be included. Hongjoong let them squeeze the breath out of him awhile, and then broke free. “One hour,” he repeated, trying to sound firm, but it was difficult in the face of San’s bright smile. He sighed. “How did you hear about this place anyway?”
“One of my friends told me,” said San. “She said it was the hottest place. She comes here all the time.”
“Did she also tell you it’s a…?” Hongjoong trailed off, raised an eyebrow.
“A what?” San’s features were painted with innocence.
Hongjoong sighed. “Never mind,” he said. “Just make sure you don’t go off alone. We’re sticking together.”
They entered the throng of bodies on the dance floor. Hongjoong loved dancing, and if it was a normal club he would’ve already been losing himself to the music.
But it wasn’t a normal club. It was a vampire den.
Vampires. The government denied their existence, claiming they were nothing more than a dark myth. But if you went out at night to the seedier parts of Seoul you might be knocked unconscious, waking to find yourself completely unharmed but for two small pricks in your neck. In the winter you might spot strange people at night, scarves drawn up and around their mouths to hide the fact that their breath didn’t frost in the cold air. You could spot apartments, supposedly empty, with windows all boarded up to prevent even the smallest bit of sunlight from entering. They seemed to pop up without explanation, more and more of them every day.
And clubs like this.
All sorts of rumors swirled around. With the mystery, there was curiosity. People wanted to know about vampires.
It was a popular whisper. They said clubs like this were safe spaces, places where you could meet vampires and have them drink from you. Hongjoong had heard the rumor more than once, that the vampire’s bite was like a drug, but he never paid them attention. He didn’t even care if they were true or not. He liked adventure, but he also liked safety.
San was different. Maybe it was because he was younger, maybe it was because he’d always had Hongjoong to protect him when things went wrong, but he’d never given much of a damn about his own safety. Otherwise why would he bring them to a club filled with vampires?
Hongjoong looked over at the two younger men dancing nearby. They were so different, and yet so similar.
San was slender, all sharp lines and angles. He rolled his hips, playful smirk on his face, asking for attention and getting it easily.
In contrast Yunho was tall and well-built, legs long and shoulders wide. He was a great dancer, but he danced for himself, not caring if anyone else found him attractive or not.
They were Hongjoong’s boys. He was only a few years older than them, but he felt responsible for them, like he had the first time they’d met five years ago. If anyone tried to hurt them, vampire or not, Hongjoong would end them.
San had attracted an admirer, a guy with dark hair who matched his moves. He came up to him, deep in his personal space, but San grinned, enjoying the closeness. The stranger said something in his ear, and San giggled and smiled even wider.
Hongjoong watched from an acceptable distance. He didn’t mind San getting some action—he was an adult after all—but it needed to be human action. No vampire dick.
“No vampire dick,” he muttered aloud.
It was impossible to tell if Mr. Black Hair was a vampire and thus in possession of a vampire dick, so they’d have to err on the side of caution and dump him just in case. San probably wouldn’t like that, judging by the way he was grinding up against him, but Hongjoong had to be a strict dad sometimes. He’d make it up by cutting off the crusts on San’s sandwiches the next morning.
He turned to go get Yunho and found him in a worse position. A girl was dancing up against him, as close as she could get. He looked up and made eye contact with Hongjoong, giving him a look of mute terror and pleading.
Hongjoong squeezed between bodies to reach his side, and he tapped the girl on the shoulder. She ignored him and kept on dancing, so he was forced to put himself between her and Yunho. She noticed him then, and glared.
“Sorry, please leave,” said Hongjoong. He had to shout over the music.
“Who the hell are you?” she asked. She spoke English with a foreign accent, and he could see now that she wasn’t Korean.
“I’m his boyfriend,” said Hongjoong, answering in English.
The girl nodded and mouthed sorry, and then went off to find someone else to dance with.
“Did you tell her I’m your boyfriend?” asked Yunho, making a face. “Gross.”
“Wow, after I saved you,” said Hongjoong, with a light shove. Yunho didn’t budge. “Come on, let’s go home.”
“Sure,” said Yunho. “Where’s San?”
Hongjoong whipped his head around. In the spot where San was supposed to be were a group of girls. He looked around, but even in the dim red lights it was obvious there was no one he recognized anywhere nearby.
San was gone. And so was the dark-haired stranger.
Hongjoong groaned. No.
He turned back to Yunho. “Go to the bar and wait for me,” he said. “I’m going to find San.”
“I could help,” said Yunho. “We’ll find him quicker if we both look.”
“No,” said Hongjoong. He didn’t want Yunho wandering around alone in a vampire den. “We’ll end up separated again. Just wait for me. I’ll be back soon.”
Yunho didn’t look happy, but he nodded.
Hongjoong waded through the crowd, taking out his phone and trying San’s number as he did. No answer. He wasn’t surprised—it was hard to even hear himself think over the music.
He wandered the floor uselessly, feeling frustration slowly turn to despair, when he noticed a door heading into a hallway. It was tucked away in a corner, easy to miss. Hongjoong went for it without hesitation. If the dark-haired stranger was a vampire, he’d want to take San somewhere secluded before he fed on him.
A lump formed in Hongjoong’s throat, and he swallowed it down.
The hallway beyond the door was quieter, and empty. The music came in through the open door, but it was muted, and Hongjoong could think now. The hallway was lit blue, a sharp contrast to the dance floor, and it looked posh, expensive. Doors lined the walls on either side, all closed.
Hongjoong’s heart pounded in his chest. He didn’t know what was happening behind those closed doors. He didn’t want to know. But San could be behind any of them, alone with a vampire intent on drinking his blood, and Hongjoong had to find him.
He tried the first door, and found it unlocked. Hongjoong opened it and entered.
The room was small, nothing in it but seats and a small table. The seats were like at a booth in a diner, fixed to the wall behind them and stretching from one end of the room to the other. In the dim light they looked inky black. The table was wooden, and bare.
There was nobody else in the room. Hongjoong was about to leave and try one of the others when he heard the door behind him open with a click.
The voice was light, pleasant. Hongjoong turned around slowly, fighting every instinct that told him to run.
It was a young man. Not tall, but taller than Hongjoong, with hair that looked black in the dimly lit room. He was dressed in a short leather jacket and jeans, not very expensively, but not bad. He was quite handsome too, with large eyes and lips that curled upwards.
He looked human. But Hongjoong looked at his chest and saw it still and unmoving. The man didn’t breathe.
“You been here before?” asked the vampire.
Hongjoong couldn’t speak. He shook his head.
“That’s alright,” said the vampire. “I won’t hurt you. Except maybe a bit at the beginning.”
“No—” The word caught in Hongjoong’s throat as the vampire was suddenly in front of him. With unnatural strength he was moved to the seats and pushed down onto them. The vampire sat next to him, sliding closer.
Panic whirled in Hongjoong’s brain, poisoning his thoughts. His body felt frozen. He had to get out. He had to get out.
“I’m—I’m not—” He tried to talk, but the words felt solid in his throat. “I don’t—I’m just looking for my friend—”
“Don’t tell me you’re into that roleplay shit,” said the vampire. “Fine, whatever. I’ll be your friend.”
He didn’t look happy. Terror spiked in Hongjoong’s chest, digging into him like knives. He’d made the vampire angry.
“No, I’m sorry,” said Hongjoong. He backed away, until he was pressed against the wall, but the vampire kept moving, coming closer and closer. “I’m just—I came with my friend—”
The vampire pounced.
He was on top of Hongjoong, caging him against the wall. Hongjoong tried to escape, but the vampire darted his face forward and there was nowhere to escape to. There was a sharp pain in the side of Hongjoong’s neck, and then—
Nothing else mattered. Nothing else existed. Hongjoong felt himself floating, being carried away in a gentle fog that tugged at his limbs, sent tingles along his skin. All his thoughts were swept away. All his worries, the stress he had carried for so long it had become inlaid in his neck and shoulders—it dissolved, leaving nothing but a serene emptiness. A void he could float in forever, a void he could lose himself in to mind-numbing ecstasy.
The feeling ebbed, not so sharp it was jarring, but enough for Hongjoong to become vaguely aware of his surroundings. He was reclining on something. Two people were speaking, but he could barely understand what they were saying. Words floated in on a tide. He caught “... didn’t say…” and “... I didn’t know…”. There was more talking, one voice louder than the other, but Hongjoong couldn’t grasp anymore.
And then there was movement, and a light shone into his eyes. Hongjoong groaned, trying to turn away from it. He didn’t want light. He wanted that emptiness back.
Someone was saying something. Someone with their face right in front of Hongjoong’s. All their features were out of focus, but he could see dark hair. Then the face moved out of sight.
Hongjoong stirred. He wanted to float again, but the feeling was getting weaker and weaker. Slowly, like the fading of night at dawn, he became more aware of his surroundings. Things came into focus. Dim light, a ceiling overhead, a table to his right. And someone sitting by his feet.
Someone with dark hair, a white shirt, dark pants. Someone with a calming voice that said, “Easy. It’ll fade. Just rest.”
“Who?” The word came out thick and slurred. Who are you?
“I’m sorry,” said the voice.
Hongjoong fell back down onto the seats. He was trying to think, but the fog clung to the corners of his brain. He was in a club, he remembered walking into it. Why had he gone inside a club? Because—San—
Something vibrated against his thigh. It took him a moment to realize it was his phone. Hongjoong managed to slide it out of his pocket. The glare of the screen blinded him, but he was able to pick up the call. He let the phone rest against his ear.
“Hyung, where are you? I’ve been calling you—I found San but then we couldn’t find you and—are you okay? Are you still in here—”
Yunho. It was Yunho. “Yunho,” Hongjoong managed to say.
“—I was—hyung, are you drunk?”
The memories seeped in. He wasn’t drunk. He’d been bitten. A vampire had cornered him, bitten him, and had drunk from him. And then—then—
Hongjoong’s gaze fixed on the person sitting at his feet. A young man, with dark hair and features that became more and more handsome as his vision cleared.
“I’m coming,” said Hongjoong, forcing the words out. “Where?”
“By the bar,” said Yunho. “Near where you left me. Shit, hyung, you don’t sound okay. Should I come get you? Where are you?”
“Coming,” repeated Hongjoong, and ended the call.
He had to get up. He had to get back to Yunho and San and get away—
He forced himself upright. His head spun and he almost fell over, but hands took hold of his arm and shoulder, keeping him up. Hongjoong recoiled from the touch, jerking his arm away.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” said the dark-haired man. Man? Vampire. He was a vampire.
Hongjoong sat still, waiting until he was more steady. Then he tried standing.
He got to his feet and pitched to the side. Blindly, he reached out and grabbed the first thing he could reach, and steadied himself.
It was the vampire’s forearm. He was standing a distance away, holding out his arm but not coming any closer. Hongjoong couldn’t even think of letting go of the support, he knew he’d fall over immediately. So he grit his teeth and stepped forward. The vampire went with him.
They walked out of the room, Hongjoong in front. Little by little his legs regained their strength, and the fog cleared. By the time they reached the end of the hallway he was steady enough to walk by himself. He let go of the vampire’s arm.
“You’re not here alone, are you?” asked the vampire. “Can you make it to where your friends are?”
The vampire was handsome. Hongjoong could see him clearly now, his strong features, high cheekbones and sharp lips, the shine in his beautiful eyes.
“Yes,” said Hongjoong. He almost thanked him, but didn’t.
“Okay,” said the vampire. “Again, I’m so sorry.”
Hongjoong didn’t say anything in return. He went out into the main area of the club.
The music sounded oddly dull to his ears, like half the sounds were muted. It wasn’t easy navigating the crowded bodies, but he pushed through. He felt like everyone’s eyes were on him, on the marks he must’ve had stark on his neck, and he hurriedly put his collar up. He kept his head down and kept going until he reached the bar on the other end of the room.
He’d just escaped the crush of bodies when arms went around him, squeezing him into a bear hug. Hongjoong tensed a moment before he recognized the warmth.
“You just disappeared,” said Yunho, still holding him close. “Me and San kept calling you but you didn’t pick up, and after you kept talking about how we shouldn’t split up, I don’t know, I got worried…”
“It’s okay, I’m okay,” said Hongjoong. He waited for Yunho to let go, and then smiled up at him.
“What happened?” asked Yunho. “Where were you?”
“Got lost in the back,” said Hongjoong, a half-lie. “It’s even louder back there. I didn’t hear my phone ringing.”
That satisfied Yunho. He stepped back, and Hongjoong caught sight of San.
The younger man looked very sorry, wringing his hands in guilt. Hongjoong propped up a smile at him, and said, “Let’s go home.”
In a second San was by his side, squeezing him into a hug. Hongjoong hugged him back briefly, and then the three of them left the club together.
The air outside was cool after the heat of the packed room. The streets were empty, not a single car anywhere nearby. Hongjoong noticed movement in the alley between the club building and the one beside it, and he instinctively put himself between it and San, who had his arm linked around his.
As Yunho took out his phone and tried to call a car, Hongjoong asked San quietly, “Where were you?”
“In the club, at the back of the room,” said San. “I’m sorry I didn’t pick up the phone. I really didn’t hear it ring.”
Hongjoong hesitated. “That guy you were dancing with,” he said slowly. “Did he…?”
“Did he what?” asked San. He broke out into a devilish grin. “Hyung, you perv, you know I don’t kiss and tell.” He smacked Hongjoong’s shoulder playfully.
But Hongjoong wasn’t in the mood for joking. “San, just tell me,” he said.
His tone was enough to sober San up. “We just made out a little,” he said. “He wanted me to go back with him to some room or something, but I wasn’t interested. So he left.”
He didn’t look like he was lying, and Hongjoong didn’t want to think he was lying. But his eyes still went to San’s neck.
Smooth, unmarked. No vampire had sunk their fangs into it.
“Okay,” he said, trying not to think about fang marks on San’s arm, or his shoulder, or any of a thousand hideable places a vampire could’ve bitten him.
San smiled, bright and sunny. “What about you?” he asked innocently. “Did you meet any hot guys?”
“No, not everyone is as popular as you,” sighed Hongjoong dramatically, and San laughed.
“Okay, bad news,” said Yunho, drifting back to the two of them. “Can’t get a car. It’s like this place is a no-go zone.”
No big wonder why. “We’ll have to walk a bit,” said Hongjoong. “It’s fine.”
But the streetlights felt weak, hardly any shield against the darkness of the night. There was more movement in the dark alley, and Hongjoong quietly herded them in the opposite direction. The building behind them was crawling with vampires, not all of them as polite as the one San had danced with. Hongjoong felt his skin crawl over the side of his neck, and fought the urge to rub at it.
Their shadows stretched, shrank, overlapped as they passed under the yellow streetlamps. All the windows on either side were dark and closed, most of them shuttered. Hongjoong briefly wondered if everyone had left because of the vampire den, or if the vampires had chosen this area because it was so empty, and then decided it wasn’t important. None of them were coming back here ever again.
They reached the end of the street, and it was just as bare. No people, no cars. Yunho sighed and took out his phone again, while San cheerfully suggested they walk the rest of the way.
“Dude, are you serious?” said Yunho, half-laughing. “We live in, like, the other side of the city. It’ll be morning by the time we reach home.”
“I don’t wanna stand here, waiting for a car that won’t show up,” said San. “Come on. I’m not tired. Are you tired?”
“It’s not me I’m worried about,” said Yunho. “Look at Hongjoong-hyung. Look at his little legs. He can’t keep up with us.”
“I’ll make you carry me all the way,” said Hongjoong, giving Yunho a whack that just made him grin wider. It felt good, making dumb jokes and smiling. They were okay after all, on their way home. They’d all gotten out of the den unscathed. Well, more or less.
“Excuse me, do you need to get home?”
Hongjoong jumped. He didn’t know that voice.
There, standing just two paces away from them, was a guy. Hongjoong hadn’t heard or seen him approach. He was young, and short and slight, with dark hair that fell in curls around his forehead. He was beautiful. Even in the ugly glow of the streetlamps he was exceedingly pretty, with delicate, almost fairy-like features. The light, oversized sweater he wore added to the effect.
“Yeah, we tried to call a car, but no one wants to come,” said Yunho.
“They won’t, not around here,” said the stranger. His voice was deep, deeper than you’d expect looking at him. “You’ll need to walk to the end of the next street over. There’re some markets that stay open around there. You might even find a cab.”
“Thanks,” said San. He turned to Yunho. “See, we could’ve just kept walking.”
Hongjoong tuned out their conversation. He was watching the stranger, trying to see if his chest rose and fell, if he was breathing. If he was alive.
The stranger looked at Hongjoong. Hongjoong was too surprised to look away, and they locked gazes. And then the stranger’s gaze flicked to Hongjoong’s neck, and the hint of a smile touched his pretty lips. A shudder ran through Hongjoong’s body, from the ends of his hair down to his toes.
“Glad to help,” said the stranger. He graced Hongjoong with a polite smile, and then walked past them, towards the club.
“Do you think one of us should go drop him off wherever he’s going?” asked San. “He’s all alone.”
“I think he’ll be fine,” said Hongjoong, trying to forget the sight of that knowing smile. “Come on, let’s go.”
The three of them kept walking, putting distance between them and the club. Every step made Hongjoong feel lighter, eased some of the tension that had grabbed hold of his neck and shoulder.
Vampires. Vampires everywhere. Hongjoong prayed none of them ever ran into them again. As far as he was concerned this night had never happened, nothing more than a nightmare he could forget about and leave to the shadow of his memory. He’d seen enough vampires to last him a lifetime.
The pretty one under the streetlights who knew with a glance he’d been bitten. The dark-haired one who’d gotten too close to San. The vampire who’d caged Hongjoong in the back of the club and sunk his fangs into his skin.
The handsome vampire with the gentle hands and soft voice who’d silently supported him. He wished with every piece of his soul he never saw them again.
The side of his neck tingled, a reminder of the bite. Hongjoong swallowed and kept walking.