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Blood, Water

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Hongjoong had no idea what he was doing.

He knew what he was doing specifically, which was putting on a jacket and fixing his hair. But in general, he had no clue.

He’d kissed Seonghwa. Not once, but many times. They’d kissed in the middle of the gray ring of buildings Hongjoong lived in, and then once or twice at the gate of the compound, and then again when they’d reached Seonghwa’s car at the corner of the street. Seonghwa had looked so happy he’d been luminous, and Hongjoong barely remembered the walk back to his building, he’d been in such a daze. Everything had felt right. Perfect. 

But that was then, when Hongjoong had been swept up in his feelings and too far gone to think. This was now, three nights later, and Hongjoong was going to see Seonghwa again.

If all of Hongjoong’s feelings told him it was right, all of his logic told him it was wrong. He’d been screeching about San dating Wooyoung for ages, and now he was doing the same with Wooyoung’s brother. How long was he supposed to pretend nothing was going on? Until San and Wooyoung broke up? What would happen to him and Seonghwa then?

It was logical that Hongjoong stop meeting Seonghwa, send him a brief impersonal message explaining it wouldn’t work and the whole thing was a mistake. And yet, here he was, trying to get his hair to sit right before he left to go meet Seonghwa again. 

Hongjoong had no idea what to say to him. Whatever vague friendship they’d had was firmly left behind. They were definitely not just friends now. 

San was out, Yunho rolling around on his bed talking over the phone. Hongjoong gave him a heads up as he was heading out, and Yunho just waved before going back to his conversation, smiling and laughing. Hongjoong was glad to see him so happy. He had no idea who this guy was that Yunho liked so much, but it was good he made him smile.

Outside it was chilly. Hongjoong wondered if he should turn back for a beanie, but decided against it. Seonghwa was probably waiting for him.

He was. Seonghwa stood at the corner he always waited at, car parked next to him. He was wearing a white turtleneck, hands in the pockets of a black wool trenchcoat, and he shook his bangs out of his eyes as he saw Hongjoong approach. 

Hongjoong’s gut twisted at the sight of him, standing there with a smile on his face. Now was it. He had to say whatever he had to say. 

“Hi,” said Seonghwa, as Hongjoong walked up to him. “I’m here to drive you to work, as promised. You’ll owe me though.”

He looked so relaxed, so happy. Hongjoong felt the tension run off his skin at the sight of him. “Stop acting like a loan shark,” he said. “I feel like I’m racking up a debt I’ll need to sell my kidney to pay off.”

Seonghwa laughed. He reached up, still smiling, and fixed Hongjoong’s fringe while Hongjoong started and then froze in surprise.

“Your hand’s warm,” he said without thinking. “How?”

“I have my methods,” said Seonghwa with a smirk. 

“Your hands are warmer than mine,” said Hongjoong, perplexed, as he took Seonghwa’s hands in his own to confirm. 

“Yeah, I planned ahead this time,” said Seonghwa, rearranging their hands so his were on the outside. They were big enough to encase Hongjoong’s easily.

“But how?” asked Hongjoong. Vampires weren’t warm, it was Vampires 101.

“That is a secret,” said Seonghwa, still with that smirk. “Come on, let’s go or you’ll be late for work.”

Hongjoong grumbled as he climbed into Seonghwa’s car, making him laugh again. In a few seconds they were on the way to the J-Mart Hongjoong worked at.

He watched Seonghwa drive in comfortable silence. He was so attractive in so many different ways. Seonghwa glanced at him, smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, and that’s when Hongjoong realized he had a smile on his face too.

“I like seeing you like this,” said Seonghwa.

“Like what?” Hongjoong tried to fix his hair again.

“So full of life,” said Seonghwa, eyes on the road. “Light. When I first met you, you seemed so… weighed down. Like you were carrying something and you were always thinking about it, right in the back of your brain, even when you were talking to me.” He smiled to himself. “You smile more now.”

Hongjoong blinked at him. He didn’t know how to respond. Seonghwa didn’t look like he was expecting a response though, only giving him a glance and a smile.

He was right. It was strange for Hongjoong to think about it, but Seonghwa was right. Hongjoong hadn’t even been nineteen when he met Yunho and San and suddenly found himself thrust into the guardian role. He thought about them, their worries, their fees and their bills and their safety constantly. When he was working, or with his friends and having fun, or in bed trying to sleep, something lingered, whispering he should be doing better, working more, harder. The only time he truly forgot everything else was when he was painting. Or when he was with Seonghwa. 

Hongjoong remembered the first time he’d entered the vampire den, when he’d experienced a vampire’s bite for the first and last time. It had given him pure, unweighted bliss, utterly unchained him from his worries. He’d been scared he’d get addicted to that feeling, and it only added to his distrust of vampires. 

But Seonghwa gave him that too, in a different way. When Hongjoong was with him it was so hard to think about anything outside the two of them. 

And Hongjoong had considered giving that up? What was wrong with him?

Don’t do it, the logical side of Hongjoong whispered, and he told it, in no uncertain terms, to shut up. He was tired of thinking, of worrying. He wanted to be light. He wanted to be with Seonghwa. 

“Hey,” he said, as they neared the mart. “You remember that shop you bought that ring from? The first time we… went out.”

“Of course,” said Seonghwa. 

“Could you really not go in there?” asked Hongjoong.

Seonghwa kept his gaze fixed ahead. He looked embarrassed. “Not… not go in there… it just wasn’t very comfortable.”

Hongjoong stared at his face, not even trying to fight the grin on his own. “You liked me.”

“Oh, my god,” said Seonghwa, now definitely embarrassed. “Shut up.”

“You did,” said Hongjoong with a cackle. “You made up a reason so we could get each other’s numbers. Fuck, I should’ve known from the moment you ran back to your house to get me that charm I didn’t even own—”

“Okay, we’ve arrived,” said Seonghwa. “You can get out now.”

“You’re so obvious, Park Seonghwa,” teased Hongjoong. 

“Well, what about you?” shot back Seonghwa. “You agreed to go with me.”

“I didn’t know it was a ploy to get me alone,” said Hongjoong with a dramatic sigh. It was only half a lie. He’d had a hunch, of course, but he hadn’t known for sure. “You tricked me, an innocent flower.”

“Innocent flower,” repeated Seonghwa, half grimacing, half laughing. 

Hongjoong laughed, and got out of the car. “You owe me for that, by the way,” he said. “Catch you later. Thanks for the ride, Park Seonghwa.” 

He was halfway to the door of the store when Seonghwa called out, “Hongjoong, wait.”

He had his head sticking out of the driver’s side window, and Hongjoong chuckled to himself before he went back and leaned down. “Yeah?” 

Seonghwa held out his hand palm up, and Hongjoong naturally put his own in it. It wasn’t warm anymore. Seonghwa reached into the pocket of his coat and came out with a hotpack, which he deposited in Hongjoong’s hand.

Hongjoong looked down at it, and then back at Seonghwa and laughed. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Just in case,” said Seonghwa, grinning. 

And then he leaned forward to kiss Hongjoong, and Hongjoong met him halfway. 

“Text me right before you get off work,” said Seonghwa. “I’ll be here to pick you up.”

Hongjoong hummed and nodded, not bothering to protest. Seonghwa smiled at that. Then Hongjoong stepped away from the car so he could reverse and drive off. 

“So… coming from another friendly outing?” 

Soyeon’s voice was right by Hongjoong’s ear, and he jumped. “Why the hell would you sneak up on me like that?” he demanded. 

She shrugged, unbothered. “I didn’t sneak up, you just didn’t hear me,” she said. “Was that you guys still being just friends?”

Hongjoong looked down at the hotpack in his hands, and smiled. “No,” he said. 

 

Wooyoung looked nervous. Hongjoong was trying to not let it get to him. 

They were at a diner near Hongjoong’s apartment, he on one side of the booth, Wooyoung on the other. San was attached to Wooyoung like a happy creeper vine.

This wasn’t what Hongjoong had expected. He’d called San to ask about vampires, wanting answers to some simple questions. If something like the dawn incident happened with Seonghwa again, Hongjoong wanted to be prepared. Instead San had jumped on the chance to set up this awkward meeting, insisting asking Wooyoung directly would be best, and they were both totally free to talk. 

And so here they were.

“So, um, what did you want to know?” asked Wooyoung. He was sitting with his spine perfectly straight, like a schoolboy facing a scary principal. 

“I just have a few questions,” said Hongjoong. “Is there any way I could accidentally hurt a vampire?”

San shot Hongjoong a sideways glare, but he ignored it. Wooyoung didn’t seem to notice. “Like, not on purpose?” he asked. “I guess, if you have something you don’t know is silver. That stuff’s not cool.”

Hongjoong didn’t have anything silver, aside from the charm Seonghwa had given him, so that wasn’t a problem. “Anything else?”

“Not really,” said Wooyoung. “I mean, I guess you could run me over with a car, that would hurt. But it’s not really accidental...”

“No one’s running you over with a car,” said San, with a warning look at Hongjoong. He moved even closer to Wooyoung, if that was possible.

“I don’t have a car,” said Hongjoong. “So that stuff about garlic and all that, that’s fake?”

“We can’t even taste or smell garlic,” said Wooyoung. “San says it’s rank though.”

“It smells so bad,” said San, making a face. Wooyoung smiled at him, features pouring fondness. 

“That reminds me,” said Hongjoong. Now that he had Wooyoung here, he might as well. “So, you can smell only living things, right?” Seonghwa had told him that when they’d gone shopping for cologne. Wooyoung nodded, and Hongjoong continued, “So if I ate something gross, can you smell that? Like, on my breath?”

“Um, no,” said Wooyoung. He turned to San and asked, under his breath, “Did he eat something gross?” 

San, who’d been busy giving Hongjoong a suspicious glare, said, “No. I have no idea why he’s asking.”

“Just curious,” said Hongjoong. He motioned to San and Wooyoung sitting attached to each other. “Don’t you get hungry being around him like that?”

“Oh, my god, hyung,” cried San. “That is so rude! How could you say that?”

“Not really,” said Wooyoung, unaffected. “It’s like… you guys have scented candles, right? And some of them smell like food. Do those make you hungry?”

Honestly, they did sometimes, but Hongjoong understood the analogy. “So we’re like scented candles.”

“Yeah, pretty much,” said Wooyoung. “And I get as much blood as I need from the club so I don’t really need to feed from San—” He stopped suddenly, eyes widening like he’d said the wrong thing.

But Hongjoong was preoccupied with another thought. “How do I smell?”

“Huh?” Wooyoung started, flustered. 

“I smell okay, right?” asked Hongjoong. Ever since Yunho had raised the possibility of his blood smelling bad the thought had niggled in the back of Hongjoong’s mind. What if Seonghwa was just tolerating the smell of him? Hongjoong wouldn’t be able to live.

“Um, sure,” said Wooyoung, looking desperately uncomfortable. 

“Tell me the truth,” pressed Hongjoong. “I won’t mind, I promise.”

“I am, I am, I swear,” said Wooyoung quickly, leaning back. “You smell alright. Not bad, but not super good. Not as good as San.”

Hongjoong leaned back, satisfied. He could live with alright.

“Aww, thank you baby,” said San, beaming as he pressed a kiss to Wooyoung’s cheek. 

“It’s just the truth,” said Wooyoung. He pecked San’s lips, and then they started making out.

Hongjoong very graciously let them, until it was obvious they weren’t planning on stopping any time soon, and then he said, maybe a little too loudly, “Really?”

They parted with a jump. “Sorry,” said San. 

It was like they’d genuinely forgotten Hongjoong was sitting right opposite them. It was kind of sweet, but Hongjoong would prefer not getting another front-row ticket. “Just don’t do that again,” he said. “Not in front of me.”

“We won’t,” said San seriously.

“I have a couple of more questions, then you can go,” said Hongjoong. “You said you don’t really get hungry because you get enough blood. How would I know you need blood soon? Before it gets too serious, I mean. Are there any signs?”

“Well it’s different for everyone,” said Wooyoung. “Yeosangie gets tired and slow. I get kinda hyper.”

“And… the other members of your family?” asked Hongjoong carefully. 

“Seonghwa-hyung gets clingy, Jongho turns into a bitch,” said Wooyoung easily. “Mingi… well, he’s, like, always hungry? So I don’t know.”

San threw Wooyoung an urgent hand signal to shut up, but Hongjoong paid him no attention. Seonghwa spoke about his family so sweetly, but the only one of them Hongjoong had met was Wooyoung. He wanted to ask for more details, but at the same time he felt wrong, like he was going behind Seonghwa’s back to find out. 

“Anything else?” asked San. 

There was one other thing, and this one made Hongjoong hesitate. But in the end his curiosity won out. He had to know. “What’s a blood bond like?” he asked.

Wooyoung blinked, caught off guard. “Huh?”

“You have a brother, right?” said Hongjoong. “You’re… related by blood. What’s it like? How far does the bond go?”

“How do you know about all that?” asked San.

“Heard it somewhere,” said Hongjoong dismissively. “Well?” 

“Uh pretty deep, I guess,” said Wooyoung. “The same guy turned me and Yeosang, and we’ve known each other for literally decades now. I can kinda tell when he’s nearby? Or feel what he’s feeling. Like if he’s upset, he doesn’t need to tell me, I can—I should just be able to tell…” He trailed off, eyes on the tabletop. 

“Woo?” San’s voice was soft as he put an arm around Wooyoung. 

“I’m fine,” said Wooyoung. He smiled, but it didn’t look as full as before. He turned back to Hongjoong and said, “That’s me and Yeosang.”

“What about the bond with the vampire that… made you?” asked Hongjoong.

“Oh, that can be crazy strong,” said Wooyoung. “It depends on the maker, actually. When a vampire turns you they always have a hold over you. They can influence your emotions and personality bad enough to literally brainwash you. Our maker Jisung didn’t do that, he was cool, but some shitty people do. Like Jongho’s.”

“Jongho’s?” Hongjoong knew he shouldn’t ask, but he was curious. Seonghwa talked a lot about Jongho, and with so much adoration. From what Hongjoong gathered they spent a lot of time together.

Hongjoong didn’t have to ask direct, Wooyoung was eager to share. “His maker made him worship her,” he said. “Literally. He said she made him obey every little thing she said, made him think he loved her more than anything. It was so bad he said he would’ve killed himself for her.”

Horror twisted Hongjoong’s insides. “She could do that?”

Wooyoung nodded. “She did, for a couple of months after he turned.”

“What happened?” asked Hongjoong. “What made her stop?” 

“We don’t really know,” said Wooyoung. “Jongho says she just got tired of him and abandoned him. She stopped controlling his emotions all of a sudden, and it made him realize what she’d been doing to him. It messed him up real bad.”

“I can’t imagine,” murmured Hongjoong. To be devoted so deeply to someone, and then to realize you’d been brainwashed the entire time… 

“But he’s really nice now,” said San, arm still around Wooyoung, now with fingers locked with his on the table. “And he’s not under her control at all.”

“Because she didn’t come back,” said Wooyoung, voice low. It was the most serious Hongjoong had ever seen him. “Which is good for her. Seonghwa-hyung would get rid of her if she tried to take Jongho back.” 

“He means scare her away,” said San quickly. “Hyung would never hurt anyone.”

“But if she did die no one would be that sad,” put in Wooyoung. “None of us even met her, except Jongho, and he definitely doesn’t like her. And if she died it’d mean he’d be out of her control forever. The control only lasts as long as the maker is alive. Hell, she might be already dead.”

Hongjoong digested this information. Seonghwa always talked about Jongho fondly, and maybe a little defensively. This would explain why. Hongjoong felt guilty for finding out without Seonghwa knowing, and tried to put the feeling aside. Wooyoung had told him willingly. He hadn’t even asked about Jongho. He’d just wanted to know about blood bonds. 

The mind control didn’t extend beyond death, which meant Seonghwa’s admiration of his maker Taehee was genuine. That was comforting, in a way. At least she wasn’t a sociopathic bitch like Jongho’s was. But for some reason it still bothered Hongjoong, just a little scratch at the back of his brain.

“Do you want to know anything else?” asked Wooyoung. 

Hongjoong chewed his lower lip. It was just natural curiosity, he told himself. He wasn’t asking for any specific reason, he just wanted to know… “Could vampires who have a blood bond like each other? Romantically?” 

San burst into laughter. “Oh, my god, hyung, that’s gross,” he screeched. “Woo and Yeosang are brothers!”

But Hongjoong noticed Wooyoung didn’t answer. He didn’t laugh either, and was very pointedly making himself busy staring at nothing. 

“Wooyoung?” he said. 

“Uh…” Wooyoung squirmed. “Not… it’s not really like, uh, being related like that…”

San stopped laughing. “What?” 

“I’m just saying,” said Wooyoung. He looked uncomfortable again. “I’ve heard of lots of vampires who were in relationships with their makers, or with vampires turned by the same maker. It’s not gross.” 

“You didn’t tell me that,” said San, suddenly serious. “You always said Yeosang was your brother.”

“I just thought it’d be easier for you to understand if I said that,” said Wooyoung. “It’s kind of like you and Yunho. You’re not really brothers, right?”

“But I would never date Yunho,” said San. He removed his arm from around Wooyoung and sat up straight. 

“Why are we talking about me dating Yeosang?” asked Wooyoung, bewildered. 

“We weren’t talking about it, you’re the one talking about it—”

“Okay, can we stop?” said Hongjoong, reminding them there was someone else with them. “Thank you, Wooyoung. That’s all.”

“Cool,” said Wooyoung. He looked relieved, either from being able to escape Hongjoong, or for the distraction from his conversation with San. “You’re welcome. Hope I helped.”

“You did,” said Hongjoong. He smiled at him, and Wooyoung stared at him in utter shock, too taken aback to smile back.

The three of them left the diner together. Hongjoong and San would head home together, and Hongjoong had to hover nearby as San and Wooyoung said goodbye, whatever argument they’d been about to have already forgotten. San kept his arms locked around Wooyoung’s waist while Wooyoung peppered his face with kisses, and then left kisses on his neck, making him giggle. When they were finally done San returned to Hongjoong’s side, looking abashed. 

“Sorry,” he said. “You probably think we’re gross.”

Hongjoong said nothing, just shrugged and started walking. He wasn’t very physically affectionate, especially not in public, so that was exactly the kind of display he hated. The weird thing was, the only thing he’d thought was to wonder if Seonghwa wanted to do that with him. 

 

Seonghwa picked him up at the corner near the apartment complex. He didn’t have his car with him, but that was fine. They walked and then took the bus to the amusement park. 

The park was an explosion of glittering lights, but none of them compared to Seonghwa. He was bubbly, bouncing like an excited child. Hongjoong only watched him with a grin on his face.

“It’s just a theme park, you know,” he said, as they entered.

Seonghwa looked highly offended. “I love theme parks,” he said. 

“Yeah, I can tell,” said Hongjoong, grinning. “What do you wanna do first?”

What Seonghwa wanted to do was buy Hongjoong a ridiculous amount of snacks, and then watch as he struggled to carry all of them. Hongjoong tried to eat them at first but eventually gave up, and ended up walking around with his arms laden, while Seonghwa slipped the smaller boxes into his jacket pockets. 

“You’re enjoying this,” said Hongjoong, after he’d spilled half the candy popcorn. 

“Of course not,” said Seonghwa innocently. He looked cute, with his hair all down and straightened, naturally curving out in a perfect bowl. He wasn’t wearing a coat either, only a turtleneck in a beautiful teal, the front of it tucked into white jeans. 

“You don’t usually do your hair like this,” said Hongjoong, trying to motion with a hand and almost dropping a pack of sour gummies. 

“I thought I’d try it,” said Seonghwa. He gently touched the ends of his bangs. “How do I look? Wooyoung said I looked like a mushroom.”

Hongjoong snorted. He could see it. “You do look a little like Toad,” he teased.

“Toad? Like the animal?” Seonghwa frowned.

“No, like the little dude from Mario,” said Hongjoong. 

“I don’t know who that is,” said Seonghwa. “Is that a compliment? It doesn’t feel like a compliment.”

“It’s totally a compliment,” said Hongjoong with a grin. 

He walked a few steps to look at a kids’ carnival game, but actually to watch as Seonghwa not so inconspicuously took out his phone to search it up. The cry of outrage he heard a couple of seconds later was glorious.

“I do not look like Toad,” fumed Seonghwa, marching up to him. “How could you say that? He has no hair!”

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry,” said Hongjoong, trying not to laugh and failing miserably. “If you were anyone in Mario it would be Peach.” 

Seonghwa shot Hongjoong a look, and then searched the character up. This time he was much more satisfied. 

“Alright,” he conceded, making Hongjoong laugh. “Peach is fine.”

They played a couple of carnival games, and Seonghwa was surprisingly good at them. He hit the bell in the hammer strength game, which was expected considering his vampire strength, but he also had good aim. He won two stuffed animals, one of which he kept for himself, the other he let Hongjoong choose and keep. 

“Something small,” said Hongjoong. “I’m not carrying anything big.” He’d just finished all the snacks he’d been lugging around. 

A small dinosaur plush was chosen. It was about the size of a baseball, striped in green and blue, and fit in Hongjoong’s jacket pocket. 

“You should’ve picked something bigger,” said Seonghwa, as Hongjoong drank from the soda cup he’d just bought. He had a gray raccoon tucked under his arm. “You’re going to lose it.”

“I am not,” insisted Hongjoong. “I don’t lose stuff.” 

He held up the cup to Seonghwa, a silent offer, and was stunned when he shrugged and bent down to take a swig of his drink. 

“You never told me you could drink stuff,” said Hongjoong. He quickly added, “I mean, other stuff.”

“It doesn’t taste like anything or do anything for me, but yeah, I can,” said Seonghwa with a little smile. And then, just to prove it, he drank more of Hongjoong’s soda.

“Stop, you’re finishing it,” grumbled Hongjoong, batting him away. Seonghwa laughed. 

They came up to the carousel, all decked in glittering electric stars and multicolored lights. Seonghwa wanted to ride, but he was above the height limit. Hongjoong, embarrassingly, was not. 

“Come on, let’s get on something else,” he said, tugging on his sleeve. 

But Seonghwa turned big shiny eyes on Hongjoong. “Please get on,” he said. “Please, please, please. I’ll owe you.”

Hongjoong wanted to refuse, but he found he couldn’t say no to that look on Seonghwa’s face. He gave in with an embarrassed laugh and a “Fine,” and was immediately scooped up and kissed on the lips. 

“Sorry,” said Seonghwa, looking too happy to be truly sorry. “Thank you.” 

Hongjoong got on, half dying with embarrassment. The girl at the gate gave him a look, and all he could do was shrug and offer a weak smile in response. He found a horse and sat on it gingerly. It looked sturdy, but he did not want to end up saddled with fees if it ended up breaking under his weight.

The merry-go-round started up as an old nursery rhyme began over the speakers. Hongjoong rotated round until he found Seonghwa standing where he’d left him, phone in hand and the biggest, most beautiful smile on his face. He was recording, Hongjoong realized. He squawked and hid his face behind his hands. 

He sneaked a look as he started moving out of view, and saw Seonghwa still had his phone up, and was laughing now. Hongjoong shot him a look, and then threw his head back and laughed, still self-conscious but better. When he came back around on the second turn, he did wacky poses for Seonghwa, making him cringe but still laugh. 

“You looked so cute,” said Seonghwa, after the ride was finally done. 

“Share that video with anyone and die,” said Hongjoong. 

“I’m already dead, but I understand,” said Seonghwa with a grin. “What do you want to do now? You can pick.”

Hongjoong looked around until something caught his eye. “Ferris wheel,” he said. 

Seonghwa stopped. “Are you sure?” he asked nervously. “Isn’t it dangerous?”

“No it is not,” said Hongjoong, laughing as he started tugging Seonghwa towards it. Seonghwa went with him. “It’s the slowest thing here. I think even the merry-go-round moved faster.”

“Yes, but the merry-go-round is on the ground,” persisted Seonghwa. 

Hongjoong gave him a sideways grin. “Are you scared?”

“No,” said Seonghwa. An obvious lie. 

“Good, because we’re getting on it,” said Hongjoong.

Seonghwa was anxious the entire time in the queue, unable to stand still. Hongjoong guessed it was a little mean of him, but he found it funny, because he knew it was completely safe. Still, he watched Seonghwa, ready to back out if he was really that scared. 

But when they reached the head of the line Seonghwa got into the car no problem, and Hongjoong climbed in after him.

They sat on the same side of the car. “You should sit on the opposite side,” said Hongjoong, trying to keep the grin off his face. “You’ll mess up the balance, and the whole thing could tip over.”

“Stop trying to scare me, I know that’s not true,” said Seonghwa, but he didn’t look entirely convinced. 

Hongjoong shrugged, and then made a show of freezing. “Did you feel that?” he asked. “That shaking?”

“Hongjoong!” 

“No, seriously,” said Hongjoong. He gripped the seat. “There it is again, like something’s loose—”

Seonghwa shot towards him. For a moment Hongjoong thought he’d choke him—which, he could admit, he kind of deserved—but he just clutched onto his arm, curling up against his side. Hongjoong cackled and pulled Seonghwa in close against him. 

“You’re terrible,” said Seonghwa, still holding him tight. “If the thing really does come loose…” 

“It won’t, nothing’s loose,” said Hongjoong. “We’re going to be fine.”

He said it with a laugh, but he felt guilty for scaring Seonghwa so much. It didn’t help that Seonghwa didn’t respond, not even to whine or call him mean, just held onto Hongjoong like he had magical powers and would be able to protect him if the ferris wheel did fall apart.

“Hey, I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I didn’t know it was that bad. I shouldn’t have made you get on.”

“You didn’t make me do anything,” murmured Seonghwa. “I thought I’d be okay.”

All Hongjoong could see of him was the crown of his head, right up against Hongjoong’s chest. He hesitated, and then started running his fingers through his soft black hair. He didn’t know if it helped, but San did it to him when he was stressed and it always made him feel better. 

“I had a lot of fun,” said Hongjoong, trying to fill the silence. “Thanks for the snacks, and the dinosaur. And everything.”

“Yeah?” Seonghwa’s voice was small. 

“Yeah,” said Hongjoong. “It’s not just an amusement park. Tonight was really great. Thanks for asking me to go out with you.”

Seonghwa raised his head to look at him, and Hongjoong leaned down to kiss him. He didn’t think he’d ever get used to this, kissing Seonghwa, but he was ready to find out. It was even stranger like this, with him bending down like Seonghwa was even shorter than him, and the thought made Hongjoong smile.

“What?” asked Seonghwa, straightening a bit. “Why are you smiling?”

“No reason,” said Hongjoong. He extricated his arm from Seonghwa’s grip to wrap it around him and pull him back in. Like this Seonghwa almost seemed smaller than him. “Next time you ride the merry-go-round.”

“I’m too tall,” complained Seonghwa. “It’s totally unfair, because they hadn’t even invented those when I was a kid so I never got to ride one.”

“Aww, I’m sorry,” said Hongjoong, mussing up his perfect mushroom hair. “That’s so sad. It could be your villain origin story.” Seonghwa grumbled and lightly pushed at Hongjoong’s chest, but settled down.

Hongjoong looked out the window as the car slowly continued its descent from the highest point. The city spread out beneath them like a map of gems, red and gold and white, and it was calming seeing it so still and quiet. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d come out to an amusement park like this. He was glad he was here with Seonghwa. 

Seonghwa started getting antsy as they got close to the bottom. When they reached the base and the car door was opened, he shot out like a rocket. Hongjoong was touched to see that as soon as he was safely on the ground, Seonghwa turned back for him and bodily lifted him out. 

“I’m okay,” said Hongjoong, laughing as he held onto Seonghwa’s arms. 

“That’s right,” said Seonghwa. “Now that we’re on the ground, we’re both okay.”

Hongjoong laughed, and then stopped when he realized something was missing. It took him a moment to realize what. “Seonghwa, you left your raccoon in the car,” he said. 

“What?” Seonghwa looked up at the climbing wheel car, almost devastated. “My raccoon…” 

“It’s okay, we’ll just wait until it reaches the ground again,” said Hongjoong. “Whoever got in will give it back.”

So they waited. Seonghwa drummed his fingers against his thigh impatiently, catching Hongjoong’s attention. Hongjoong looked at his hand a moment, and then took it in his own. Seonghwa started in surprise.

“Just checking if they’re warm,” said Hongjoong casually. Seonghwa looked so frazzled it was adorable. “You didn’t use your methods tonight.”

“No, I didn’t think…” Seonghwa trailed off, abashed. “Next time.”

“It’s cool, I don’t mind,” said Hongjoong. He rubbed Seonghwa’s hand between his a moment, and then let go. Seonghwa smiled, more to himself, glowing like the lights dotting the ferris wheel.

The car they’d been in finally reached the bottom, and Hongjoong asked the new occupants, a couple of girls, to hand him the stuffed animal. One of them stared at Seonghwa unabashedly, and Hongjoong grinned. Seonghwa was too handsome not to attract attention. 

“There she is, safe and sound,” said Hongjoong, handing the raccoon over.

“Thank you,” said Seonghwa as he held it close. “And he’s a he. His name is Joong.”

Hongjoong gasped, feigning offense. “You named your trash panda after me?” 

“He is not a trash panda, he is a raccoon,” said Seonghwa. “And he’s very cute, just like you.”

“Okay, okay, if you say so,” said Hongjoong. “Just make sure you don’t lose him again.”

“Never,” said Seonghwa seriously. 

They spent awhile longer at the park, playing games, getting on rides. As promised, Seonghwa kept his raccoon safe, and when they got on the bus back to Hongjoong’s apartment it was sitting snug on his lap. 

Seonghwa got off at the stop with Hongjoong. Hongjoong felt bad, knowing Seonghwa’s house was on the other side of the city and he had no car, but he knew there was no point in trying to convince Seonghwa to let him come home alone. 

“Thank you for going with me,” said Seonghwa, cupping Hongjoong’s face with his cold hands. “I had a lot of fun.” 

“Me too,” said Hongjoong, and he meant it. He felt lighter and freer than he’d ever felt before, and he hoped it showed. 

Seonghwa smiled, and kissed him. “I’ll see you later.”

Hongjoong hummed and nodded. He put his hands over Seonghwa’s, just a moment, and Seonghwa lowered his hands from his face so they could link hands. Then Seonghwa let go and stepped back, and Hongjoong turned to walk home. 

The chilly air nipped at his skin, but he felt warm. He slid his hands into his pockets, and closed his fingers around the pudgy dinosaur Seonghwa had won him. Hongjoong smiled to himself and kept walking.