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Blood, Water

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“You’re gonna love him, hyung, I promise.”

“You said that before,” said Hongjoong.

“I meant it every time I said it,” said San.

Hongjoong laughed. He was still uncertain about the whole thing, but San’s enthusiasm was infectious.

They were in a car on the way to the chosen meeting spot. It was a park in Seoul’s rich south western suburbs, supposedly near where San’s boyfriend lived. If that was true, he was rich. Hongjoong had seen some of the houses there during his time as a deliveryman, and those were not houses regular people could afford.

They traveled in silence mostly. Hongjoong sincerely hoped this new boyfriend was at least decent. He knew he wouldn’t be able to stop San from seeing him no matter how much he disapproved, so all he could do was hope this guy wasn’t the type to disapprove of. 

The car stopped in front of the park a few minutes later, and they climbed out. There was a bit of a chill in the air. Hongjoong’s ears would be red enough to match his hair soon, and he regretted not wearing a beanie. San had bundled up. He looked even younger than he usually did, innocent.

“There they are,” said San brightly, pointing to two figures standing in the distance. 

One of the figures waved, and San enthusiastically waved back. Hongjoong didn’t. That would’ve been weird.

The way was up an easy slope, but they were off the path and on the grass, so Hongjoong focused on not tripping as he climbed it. Only as they reached the top did he get a good look at the two men waiting for them.

San bounded up to the shorter of the two, smiling. “Hyung, this is Wooyoung,” he said, turning to Hongjoong.

But Hongjoong wasn’t looking at him. His eyes were fixed on the other man, the one in the chic gray coat and red scarf, with hair darker than the night.

It was him. The vampire.

“San,” said Hongjoong quietly, wrenching his eyes away from the vampire. “Can I talk to you a moment?”

He and San stepped away from the other two to talk. Hongjoong didn’t know how good vampire hearing was, if they would be able to hear them regardless, but he had to try.

“What’s up, hyung?” asked San.

Hongjoong was ready with an excuse for them to return home, discuss the matter in privacy and safety and away from vampires, when he saw the look hidden in San’s eyes. All doubt left his mind. “You know,” he said quietly.

To his credit, San didn’t play dumb. “Yes,” he said in a small voice.

“Why?” asked Hongjoong. “Why him?”

“He’s really funny, and cute,” said San. “You’d like him if you gave him a chance.”

“He’s a vampire,” hissed Hongjoong. “He could kill you.”

“Anyone could kill me,” said San, looking Hongjoong in the eye. “That doesn’t mean I don’t go outside.”

Hongjoong had no reply to that, and San no longer looked guilty, he looked bold. “We’ll talk about this when we get home,” he said finally.

San smiled at that, and then walked right back to Wooyoung.

“This is Hongjoong-hyung,” he said. “Say hi.”

“Um, hi,” said Wooyoung. “I’m Wooyoung.”

Hongjoong bit down on the words on his tongue. He couldn’t leave now, not without looking suspicious, and he didn’t want to do that. 

“Kim Hongjoong,” he said.

“And this is Seonghwa-hyung,” said San, motioning to the other.

The other vampire. He looked as handsome as ever, dark hair combed away from his forehead, long coat suiting his frame. He had an attractive mouth. Hongjoong hated himself for noticing that, because now that he had his eyes kept going to it.

“Hello,” said the vampire. 

Seonghwa. That’s his name. “Hey,” said Hongjoong, affecting a casual tone. 

Seonghwa blinked at him, and then focused all his attention on San. It seemed he didn’t want to be here any more than Hongjoong did.

Which Hongjoong thought was unfair. He hadn’t been tricked into this meeting, Hongjoong had. He hadn’t gone into this expecting an awkward but regular meeting with regular people. The sight of the vampire’s face had thrown Hongjoong way offtrack. It took all his focus to even put on a normal front, and he wasn’t sure how well he was succeeding. 

“Okay,” said Wooyoung. “It’s great to finally meet you. Is there anything you want to ask me?” He looked awkward, and nervous.

He also looked familiar. Hongjoong peered at him a moment, and then recognition hit. He was the dark-haired stranger from the vampire club, the one San had gone off with. That was why San had gone back. For him.

“No,” said Hongjoong.

Wooyoung blinked. “No?”

“Actually, no, I do have a question,” said Hongjoong. He motioned to Seonghwa. “How are you two related?”

“Oh, we’re brothers,” said Wooyoung with a smile.

“You look nothing alike,” said Hongjoong.

There was an awkward silence. Wooyoung fumbled for an answer, while San glared at Hongjoong.

“I adopted him,” burst out Seonghwa.

Hongjoong raised his eyebrows. “What?”

“My maker had died, and so had his,” said Seonghwa. He looked only at Hongjoong as he spoke, ignoring Wooyoung’s desperate hand signals. “He had no money, and I had too much, so I took him and his brother in. And then two more later.”

“A big family,” said Hongjoong. He was surprised. He didn’t know what answer he’d expected, but it wasn’t this.

“Not really,” said Seonghwa. 

“Sorry about him,” said Wooyoung with an awkward laugh. “Hyung is—is a bit weird, he—fell on his head when he was a baby, he should probably get going—”

“Don’t bother,” said Seonghwa. “He knows.”

Wooyoung’s eyebrows rose. He opened his mouth, and then shut it soundlessly. It was kind of endearing.

“So, now that that’s out in the open, I do have questions,” said Hongjoong. “Did you ever drink San’s blood?”

Wooyoung shook his head. 

Hongjoong fixed him with a look. “Really?”

“Really,” said Wooyoung. “He never asked.”

He looked sincere. Did he have any reason to lie? “And the rest of your… family?” asked Hongjoong.

“No.” This time Seonghwa answered. “Not San. Never.”

Hongjoong glanced at him, and then looked back at Wooyoung.

“They really didn’t,” said San, exasperated. “Now can you stop interrogating them? They’re not criminals, they did nothing wrong.”

“How are you so rich?” Hongjoong asked Seonghwa.

“Inheritance,” he replied.

And that was that. There was nothing else Hongjoong could ask, or do. It was pointless. San was already standing beside Wooyoung, arm linked through his apparently subconsciously. He liked the vampire. He would keep seeing him, in whatever way he could. Hongjoong couldn’t ground him, or forbid him from dating him. 

He wished he could. He really, really did. He wished San was sixteen again, wholly dependent on him, and hated himself for the thought. San was an adult now, and Hongjoong had to treat him like one.

“Alright,” he said.

“Alright… what?” Wooyoung was confused.

“Alright, I met you,” said Hongjoong. “Don’t bring him home too late. He has things to do during the day, after all.”

Wooyoung looked like he had no idea what was going on. But San smiled, big and bright and satisfied, like things had worked out exactly like he had expected.

Murder is illegal, Hongjoong reminded himself, keeping his expression neutral in the face of San’s satisfied smile. He glanced at Wooyoung. But maybe murdering a vampire wasn’t? They were technically dead after all—

“Can I have a word with you alone?”

Seonghwa’s sudden question brought Hongjoong back to reality. A part of him wanted to refuse, but he found himself saying, “Yeah.”

They walked a few paces away from the other two, which was completely unnecessary. San and Wooyoung seemed unaware of everything outside the two of them.

When they were far enough, Seonghwa said, “I didn’t know it would be you. Coming here, I mean.”

“I thought so,” said Hongjoong. Seonghwa looked so sincere it was almost funny. “You kind of gave the scam away.”

“I didn’t know there was a scam,” said Seonghwa earnestly. “I didn’t know you didn’t know. About Wooyoung, I mean.”

“But you knew I knew San,” said Hongjoong.

“Yes, because we talked that night,” said Seonghwa. “I—actually, you…”

“Yeah?” prompted Hongjoong.

“Please wait here,” said Seonghwa.

And then he turned and ran away.

Hongjoong watched him go, dumbfounded. Someone started laughing a loud, high laugh, piercing in the night.

Shockingly, it was Wooyoung. “That’s, like, the first time I’ve ever seen Seonghwa-hyung run,” he said, still laughing.

“Oh, my god, hyung,” cried San. “What did you say to him?”

“I didn’t say anything,” said Hongjoong, bewildered. How was this his fault?

“He’s sensitive!” said San, while Wooyoung howled with laughter. “You’re too mean.”

“I wasn’t mean,” insisted Hongjoong. “He just said to wait, and then booked it.”

“He better come back,” said San sternly, and all of a sudden Hongjoong felt like the scolded child. It was jarring.

So they waited, but not for long. Only a few minutes later Seonghwa returned, still running. The sight of him set Wooyoung laughing again.

“Thank you for waiting,” said Seonghwa to Hongjoong. He wasn’t out of breath at all.

“Where did you go, hyung?” asked San.

“Just back to the house to get something, Sannie,” said Seonghwa. He looked at San so sweetly it struck Hongjoong. And then he was facing Hongjoong again, saying, “This is yours. You dropped it the last time we spoke, and I thought you would like it back.”

He held out a small cloth bundle in one hand. Curious, Hongjoong took it and opened it.

Inside was a charm, from a bracelet or chain. It was silver in color, and flat and circular—one half solid, the other only the outline. It was a little scratched, and the hook was bent and mangled, but otherwise it was in great condition.

“This isn’t mine,” said Hongjoong.

Seonghwa’s expression froze on his face. “Huh?”

“I’ve never owned anything like this,” said Hongjoong. “I’m sorry.”

“No, it—are you sure?” asked Seonghwa.

“Yeah, I’m sure,” said Hongjoong. The air felt awkward, and he shifted. “It looks expensive.”

“It’s silver,” said Seonghwa.

Which meant it was expensive. Hongjoong tried to hand it back to Seonghwa, but Seonghwa raised his hands and stepped backwards.

“You can keep it,” he said.

“I told you, it’s not mine,” said Hongjoong. 

“It is now,” said Seonghwa. “I have no use for it, and finding the original owner will be impossible so…” He smiled. “Please.”

Hongjoong found himself unable to refuse that weak smile. “Since you insist,” he said.

“I do,” said Seonghwa. He smiled, a much happier smile. “I’ve been worried one of the kids would find it. It’s better with—with you.”

Hongjoong didn’t know what to say. “Thank you,” he said, but it didn’t feel right.

Seonghwa’s smile widened, pretty mouth carrying it well.

“Okay,” said Hongjoong, suddenly feeling the need to look at anyone but Seonghwa. “San, let’s go.”

“What? Go where?” asked San.

“Home,” said Hongjoong. 

“Already?” San pouted. He was still attached to Wooyoung, hands and arms linked.

“Yeah, already,” said Hongjoong. “You can go on your date some other night.”

San grumbled, but began separating from Wooyoung. It looked like it would take a while.

“Where do you live?” asked Seonghwa. “I could take you.”

Before Hongjoong could politely refuse, San said, “Thanks, hyung!” and began reciting their address.

And so they ended up getting a ride home from a vampire. It was a nice car, vintage American kept in perfect condition. The outside was a shiny black, the interior caramel brown.

San sat in the backseat. Wooyoung joined him, saying he wanted to see him home. Hongjoong didn’t want an up-close look at the two of them together, and sat in the front passenger seat. 

Beside Seonghwa. He was a good, steady driver, keeping his eyes on the road and only smiling slightly at the whispered words and giggles from the backseat.

“Thank you,” said Hongjoong, feeling like he ought to say something. “For going out of your way to drive us.”

“It’s no trouble,” said Seonghwa, with a brief glance. “It’s why I brought the car, actually. Our house is in walking distance from the park.”

“Yeah, you proved that when you ran there and back,” said Hongjoong without thinking.

Seonghwa sputtered. It was a very un-vampire thing to do. “I didn’t want you to wait,” he said.

“You didn’t have to run,” said Hongjoong. A smile was ready to break on his face, and he forced it away.

They drove in silence for some time. San and Wooyoung were still busy in the back, and Hongjoong fought the urge to monitor them in the rearview mirror.

So he looked at Seonghwa. He had a handsome side profile, with his strong nose and dark hair combed back. A classy silver colored watch showed on his wrist as he steered the car with a relaxed hand. He looked chic. Expensive. 

Looking at him, Hongjoong wasn’t surprised they were different species. It felt like they shouldn’t even be on the same planet.

Hongjoong and San’s apartment building was just like a thousand others, in a part of the city where all the buildings were packed together like so many gray blocks. The car rolled to a stop in front of it, and San and Wooyoung climbed out first, probably to get a moment unaccompanied. Hongjoong moved to follow them.

“Hongjoong-ssi, wait,” said Seonghwa.

Hongjoong stopped. “Yeah?”

“My handkerchief,” said Seonghwa. He looked awkward. “You have it. I had it wrapped around y—the charm. Can I have it back?”

“Shit, right,” said Hongjoong. “Sorry, I totally forgot.” He pulled it out of his jacket pocket, shook the silver charm out of its folds, and then held the white cloth out. 

Seonghwa took it from him, and as he did, his fingers brushed against Hongjoong’s.

The vampire started, and then hurriedly looked away. He made himself busy folding the handkerchief.

Hongjoong just stared. He knew he should say something, but he didn’t know what. He muttered a quick goodbye and climbed out of the car. Seonghwa didn’t stop him this time.

The air outside was refreshingly cool. San and Wooyoung had finished their goodbyes, thankfully. Wooyoung awkwardly said bye to Hongjoong as he returned to the car, an uncertain half bow to accompany the words. Hongjoong only tilted his head in return.

“Bye hyung!” said San, waving cheerfully to Seonghwa. 

Seonghwa probably waved back. Hongjoong didn’t know. He resolutely avoided looking at him.

And then the car was driving away, taking the two vampires with it.

As soon as it was out of sight, San jumped on Hongjoong in a hug. “Thank you, thank you, hyung,” he said. He leaned back to beam at him. 

“Don’t think you’re getting out of this so easy,” said Hongjoong, grabbing San by the arm. “Come on. Upstairs.”

The living room was empty when they entered the apartment, which meant Yunho was probably busy playing games in his room. That was fine. Hongjoong would deal with him later. 

San sat on the couch, knees together, hands in his lap. Hongjoong stood before him. He wasn’t that much taller, even with San sitting down, but Hongjoong knew how to cut an imposing figure. San was already nervous.

Hongjoong took a deep breath. “Well?”

“I’m sorry,” said San, voice small.

It was horrible of him, but Hongjoong felt more at ease now. This was regular, this was his life. San getting in trouble, Hongjoong setting him straight. Not a handsome vampire giving him jewelry, or getting flustered when their fingers accidentally touched—

He forced the thought out of his head. “You lied to me,” he said.

“I didn’t,” insisted San. “I didn’t say anything untrue—”

“You hid the truth from me,” said Hongjoong. “Jesus, San, what did you think was gonna happen?”

“I didn’t think you’d realize,” said San.

“They’re fucking vampires,” said Hongjoong, voice rising of its own accord. “How was I not supposed to realize?”

“I don’t know, they look so normal,” murmured San.

Normal? San thought Seonghwa looked normal? “You have no idea how angry I am right now,” said Hongjoong. “Not only did you go back to that—that den, you went and picked up a vampire. A vampire, San. And you’ve been spending time with him alone?”

“He never bit me or hurt me in any way, hyung,” said San. He frowned. “You were okay with me dating him. You said I could go out with him if I came back early.”

“Of course I said that,” said Hongjoong, exasperated. “We were standing in front of two vampires, what the hell was I supposed to say?”

“He’s really sweet and funny,” said San. “I don’t know why you’re so against me dating him.”

“Because he’s a vampire!” Hongjoong didn’t understand, what part of this was San not getting? “Because when he looks at you he doesn’t see you, he sees food. And one day he might decide he’s hungry.”

“You don’t know that,” said San defiantly. “Wooyoung’s not like that, and neither are any of the others I met.”

“The others you…” Hongjoong tried another deep, calming breath. It didn’t work. “How many vampires have you met?”

“Just Wooyoung’s brothers,” said San.

“You’ve been inside their house,” said Hongjoong flatly. It wasn’t a question.

San squirmed. “Maybe…”

“You went to a house filled with fucking vampires, alone?” Hongjoong was yelling again, and San shrunk back. “You didn’t stop to think for one moment what would happen if they decided to pounce on you—”

“They didn’t pounce on me, oh my god—”

“They could’ve!”

“But they didn’t,” said San. “They were really nice to me. You talked to Seonghwa-hyung, isn’t he a nice person?”

Hongjoong couldn’t respond. He found himself literally unable to force any words out of his mouth. Why was San bringing up Seonghwa? “This isn’t about him,” he said finally. 

“What, so only Wooyoung is some sort of bloodthirsty monster?” demanded San.

“Of course not,” said Hongjoong. “The point is I—we don’t know him. Or Wooyoung, or any of his ‘brothers’. All we really know about them is that they’re vampires. They literally—” He stopped, turned to the door leading to San and Yunho’s room. 

“What?” asked San.

“Yunho, get in here,” said Hongjoong.

For a few seconds nothing happened. And then Yunho slunk out of his hiding spot behind the half-open door. “Hi hyung,” he said sheepishly. “Didn’t hear you come in.”

“Sit down,” said Hongjoong. He was not in the mood.

Yunho sat down next to San, mirroring his posture. They looked like two schoolboys in front of the principal, one dripping regret, the other more defiant.

“You knew about San’s boyfriend,” said Hongjoong flatly. “You didn’t tell me.”

“I’m sorry,” burst out Yunho. In so many ways it was easier dealing with him than with San. “I couldn’t just rat him out like that.”

“This went beyond loyalty,” said Hongjoong. “San was out with a vampire and you hid it from me.”

Yunho muttered something under his breath.

“What was that?” said Hongjoong sharply, and Yunho started. “I want to know what you said. Repeat.”

Yunho looked like he’d rather throw himself out the window.

“He said you wouldn’t have been able to stop me anyway,” said San boldly. “And he’s right.”

Hongjoong looked at him, and San’s boldness wilted under his gaze. “Say that again,” he said quietly.

Silence. San wouldn’t even make eye contact.

If Hongjoong told him to never see Wooyoung again, San might nod and accept it. But he wouldn’t obey. Not for more than a night or two, if even that. It wasn’t like San to let go of things he liked. And he liked Wooyoung.

It was a losing battle, and Hongjoong had known it from the beginning. 

He felt a little overwhelmed, in truth. The night had been a rollercoaster, throwing him in directions he hadn’t expected, and it felt like only the beginning. 

“You won’t go to his house,” said Hongjoong. “Or to that vampire den. Or any vampire den at all.”

San looked up, confused. He glanced at Yunho, who seemed even more lost.

“You tell me where you’re going and for how long,” continued Hongjoong. That was too much to hope for, he knew, but he had to try. “Only public places. And you’re not allowed to stay out the entire night. You need to sleep.”

“Are you… are you saying yes?” San’s eyes lit up, and he jumped up. “Hyung, thank you, thank you—”

“Don’t thank me,” said Hongjoong, raising a hand before San could hug him. “I’m not happy. You’re dating a vampire, and you’re going to regret it. I’m letting you find that out for yourself.” 

He just had to wait it out, Hongjoong told himself. Wait until San got bored of this boyfriend as he had all the others. The shine of having a vampire boyfriend would fade eventually, it had to. If San followed the rules Hongjoong had set he would be safe, and that was all Hongjoong needed.

San was bubbling with happiness. He ignored Hongjoong’s hard tone and hugged him, saying, “You’re the best. Thank you.”

Hongjoong exhaled. He caught Yunho’s eye. Yunho hurriedly looked away, still expecting a scolding.

“Okay, that’s enough,” said Hongjoong, extricating himself. “You can go. Both of you.”

Yunho jumped up, ready to flee. San, happy and shining like the midday sun again, smiled and nodded. He was about to leave when he stopped and said, “Wait, hyung, I wanted to ask you something.”

“Sure,” said Hongjoong. He was exhausted, and he wanted the night to end. 

“What did you and Seonghwa-hyung talk about?” asked San.

His words hit Hongjoong like a baseball bat to the head. The question was so unexpected it left Hongjoong gaping like a dead fish, unable to come up with an answer. Just when he’d been getting used to normal life, San had to come out with that innocent question.

“Who’s Seonghwa?” asked Yunho.

“One of Wooyoung’s brothers,” explained San. “Hyung?”

“It—nothing,” said Hongjoong, disoriented. “Nothing. Just about the night I got you from the den.” In his pocket the charm felt as heavy as a boulder.

San blushed red, obviously embarrassed by the memory, and stalked off to his room. Yunho followed, looking relieved to have escaped relatively unscathed.

Hongjoong watched them go, feeling more tired than ever. Then he went to his room.

It was in a mess, just like he’d left it. He barely noticed as he made his way to the bed and dropped down onto it. Carefully, almost hesitantly, Hongjoong reached into his pocket and took out the charm.

It was simple, and beautiful. In the dim light that floated in through the window it glinted dully, the silver faintly glowing. Hongjoong looked at it, and thought of the moon.

He turned it over in his fingers, once, twice, and then put it down on his dresser.