There was a slight dip in income from the residential building on the north east side, mainly due to the ongoing repairs with the water system. Apparently the problem was worse than anyone had guessed. Someone’s bathtub had been close to falling through the floor and into the unit below. That would have to be checked on, just to ensure it was being handled quickly.
Seonghwa’s phone lit up with a message. He put everything aside to open it.
It was a picture of a pair of sneakers, all painted over in fiery reds and oranges, dotted through with sparks. The caption was a smiling emoji and text of finally done!!
Seonghwa smiled. They look incredible, he texted back.
Thank you hehe
My fingers hurt from holding the brush
But im happy
you should be
but you should take breaks (๑•̀ᵔ•́๑)
Seonghwa could imagine Hongjoong cackling at his very justified and sincere concern, and thought that was unfair. He sent another text reminding him that they would be going out tonight, and Hongjoong sent back a string of V-sign and sparkle emojis, his own unique way of saying okay. Seonghwa smiled at it a moment, and then locked his phone and put it away.
He’d just gotten back to deciding which units he’d personally check up on when Wooyoung walked into the living room and promptly threw himself over his shoulders.
“I’m bored,” he announced dramatically. “Play with me.”
“I’m busy,” said Seonghwa, but he closed the tablet and put it on the table anyway. “Unlike you, I’m employed.”
“That’s so mean,” whined Wooyoung, giving Seonghwa a shake and nearly crushing his windpipe.
“It’s the truth,” said Seonghwa, reaching behind him to grab at Wooyoung. He pulled him around the end of the couch and half into his lap. “You’re lucky I can’t choke to death or I’d be dead by now.”
“You’re lucky you can’t choke to death,” said Wooyoung. “I don’t care.”
Seonghwa gasped in fake outrage, and grabbed Wooyoung in a headlock. Wooyoung squawked and batted at his arm until he let go.
“Not going out tonight?” asked Seonghwa, as Wooyoung plopped down next to him on the sofa.
“No, San is busy,” sighed Wooyoung. “He has to study. Can you believe that? Study! He’s going to study instead of being with me!”
“Well, yeah,” said Seonghwa. “You don’t want him to fail, do you?”
“Of course not,” said Wooyoung. “I told him he could bring all his books and stuff here and I could, like, sit next to him while he studies but he said no. Apparently he won’t get any work done with me around.” He huffed.
Seonghwa thought about how, if you didn’t distract them, Wooyoung and San had a tendency to forget about everything outside their little bubble. “I can see why he’d think that,” he said.
“For your information I would be a great study buddy,” said Wooyoung. “I’m just a great buddy, period.”
“Sure, if you say so,” said Seonghwa. “What about the others?”
“Mingi is texting or something,” grumbled Wooyoung. “He’s always on his phone. Sometimes he’ll even kick me out of the room so he can talk.”
“Is this the same friend he made through that game he plays?” asked Seonghwa. “Star-something?”
“You’re so old,” said Wooyoung with a cackle. “Star-something.”
“Just answer the question,” said Seonghwa, shoving him.
Wooyoung shoved back, but answered, “Yeah, I think it’s the same friend. I dunno, he doesn’t talk about him much.”
Seonghwa thought about it. From what he’d gathered, this friend was a little more than a friend. Which was sweet, but could become messy the longer it went on. Seonghwa wondered if he should ask Mingi about it directly, or get Yeosang to do it. Seonghwa could get a little too emotional when it concerned Mingi. Yeosang would be able to handle it more calmly.
“Seriously, though,” said Wooyoung, with a snort. “Star-something. Just say you’re a thousand years old, why don’t you?”
Seonghwa ignored that. “Where’s Yeosang?”
The smile slipped off Wooyoung’s face. “I don’t know,” he said.
Seonghwa frowned. This wasn’t like Wooyoung.
“He went out before you came downstairs,” said Wooyoung, looking away. “He, um, didn’t say where.”
“Oh,” said Seonghwa. He didn’t know what else to say. Wooyoung always knew where Yeosang was, and vice versa.
Wooyoung was silent, which was even less like him. He chewed his lower lip, obviously working up to something, and Seonghwa was willing to wait.
“Hyung,” he said finally. “Do you think Yeosang’s been kinda different lately?”
“Different? How?” asked Seonghwa.
“Just different,” said Wooyoung. “Like… he talks less. I mean, he usually doesn’t talk unless he has something to say, but it’s… different now. Like he has stuff to say, but he won’t. And it’s not all the time, either. Sometimes he’s okay, like he always was, but sometimes he’s… not.”
“I haven’t noticed,” said Seonghwa. He didn’t want to, but he had to be honest. Yeosang had been normal with him, except for a few pointed glances when the topic of Hongjoong came up, but nothing unexpected.
“No, I think—I think it’s only with me,” said Wooyoung.
“You think Yeosang’s upset with you?” asked Seonghwa, frowning.
“I don’t know,” said Wooyoung. “But he’s different.”
He looked wretched. He was wringing his hands in his lap, shoulders slumped like he’d been drained of the electric spark that normally powered him. It was the first time Seonghwa had seen him like this, so uncertain and unsettled, and he had known Wooyoung decades.
“Hey,” said Seonghwa softly, putting a hand over Wooyoung’s. “It’s okay. Tell me.”
“I can’t feel him anymore,” said Wooyoung.
His hands were shifting under Seonghwa’s, and Seonghwa gripped them to keep them still. “What do you mean, feel him?” he asked. “You can’t sense his presence?” Wooyoung and Yeosang had one of the strongest bonds Seonghwa had ever seen, stronger even than his own had been with Taehee. They could sense where the other was, sometimes even exactly what they were doing. The strength of their bond bordered on telepathy.
“I can’t feel what he’s feeling,” said Wooyoung. “He closed himself off. From me.”
“I didn’t know you could do that,” said Seonghwa. Taehee had always been acutely aware of Seonghwa’s feelings, even when he’d tried to hide them.
“I can’t,” said Wooyoung. “He can.”
“He’s done it before?” asked Seonghwa.
“Once,” said Wooyoung. He swallowed. “A long time ago. It was some time after Jisung died. It was pretty bad then, you know. We couldn’t feed enough, we were always hungry and Yeosang, he just kept getting weaker and weaker…” His eyes glistened with tears, and he blinked to try and force them back, but they remained. “He thought he was going to die. He didn’t want me to know, so he closed himself off from me.”
Seonghwa pulled Wooyoung into his arms. He looked so hurt Seonghwa couldn’t stop himself. He’d heard before about what they’d suffered during the peak of the vampire hunting years, but it crushed his heart every time. Hearing Wooyoung say it with such raw pain was like a silver knife sliding in his chest.
“That was when I told him,” said Wooyoung, voice steady and dry. “We were going to live together and die together. I wasn’t gonna let him leave me.” He swallowed again. “But now…”
“Hey, he’s not going anywhere,” said Seonghwa, pulling away so he could look at Wooyoung’s face. He wasn’t crying, which was a relief. “And he’s not in any danger.”
“I know,” said Wooyoung. “But he’s hiding something from me, and I don’t like it. I keep thinking about back then, hyung. I was really scared I’d lose him.”
“I know,” said Seonghwa. He found Wooyoung’s hands again and squeezed them. “But you won’t now. You guys are both safe and happy here, and he’s not going to leave.”
Wooyoung bit his lower lip, dropping his gaze to their linked hands. He didn’t look any less troubled.
“You need to talk to him,” said Seonghwa. “Ask him what’s bothering him.”
“Huh?” Wooyoung looked up. “We don’t do that.”
“Do what?” Seonghwa didn’t understand.
“Talk,” said Wooyoung, like it was obvious. “We don’t talk. We don’t need to. I’ve never had to ask him what’s wrong. I just know, and then I fix it.”
“Obviously that’s not working right now,” said Seonghwa. “Talk to him directly, Woo. If something really is bothering him, you should know. If you want I can be there too, but you need to talk.”
Wooyoung was silent for a moment, thinking it over. “Can you ask him?” he said finally.
Seonghwa sighed. “Wooyoung, you should—”
“I will,” said Wooyoung, cutting him off. “I will, I promise, but can—can you ask him first? Just—just so I know he doesn’t hate me.”
“He’d never hate you,” said Seonghwa. Yeosang would hate everything else in the entire world before he’d hate Wooyoung.
“Just please,” said Wooyoung, grabbing Seonghwa’s hands in a tight grip. “Please, hyung.”
He looked so earnest, so pained, Seonghwa couldn’t refuse. “Okay, I will,” he said. “But I promise, Yeosang doesn’t hate you. I don’t think he physically can. Which should tell you how much he cares about you, because you’re really annoying sometimes.”
It was a poor attempt at lightening the mood, but Wooyoung smiled weakly anyway. “Not only is that mean, it’s a total lie,” he said. “I am perfect.”
Seonghwa laughed and ruffled Wooyoung’s hair, and Wooyoung squawked indignantly before he tried to fix it.
“You’re so lucky I can’t choke you to death,” he huffed.
“You’re lucky,” shot back Seonghwa. “If you killed me Jongho would avenge me.”
Wooyoung snorted, and grinned, more relaxed than before. When Seonghwa had to get up to get ready, Wooyoung only grumbled and let him go.
He picked out a black sweater, layering it with a double breasted wool coat in caramel and a checkered scarf. It was supposed to be a little warmer tonight, perhaps too warm for the look, but Seonghwa wanted to wear it and so he would. He wore full base makeup, as always, in case they went somewhere brightly lit. For the first time in awhile Hongjoong had chosen where they’d go for their date, and he had insisted on keeping it a secret.
A thrill ran through Seonghwa at the thought. He was going on a date with Hongjoong. It didn’t feel real sometimes, but it was true. Seonghwa and Hongjoong were dating. Hongjoong let Seonghwa kiss him, and sometimes even initiated when he was sure no one was watching. Seonghwa had held his hand, felt the roughness of his skin against his own. Hongjoong smiled when he looked at Seonghwa, a real, unburdened look of happiness, and whenever he did Seonghwa would feel bubbles rise and pop in his chest. They were dating, and Hongjoong was happy with Seonghwa. It was almost too good to be true.
When he went downstairs he saw that Wooyoung had left, but Jongho was there, tapping at his phone. He put it down when he spotted Seonghwa.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“I don’t know yet,” said Seonghwa, with a smile. “I’ll be back before sunrise, don’t worry.”
Jongho was silent a moment, thinking something over. And then he asked, “What’s he like?”
“He’s amazing,” said Seonghwa. He knew who Jongho was asking about.
“So when can I meet him?” asked Jongho.
He was nervous. Other people wouldn’t have been able to tell, but Seonghwa knew Jongho too well. “Soon,” he said, and it didn’t feel like a lie. Hongjoong obviously liked Seonghwa, and their relationship was going well. He would be open to getting to know Jongho soon, first impressions be damned.
“He knows you’re a vampire,” said Jongho. “What’s wrong with me meeting him?”
“There are just a lot of issues,” said Seonghwa. “But you will meet him, I promise. You’ll like him.”
Jongho raised an eyebrow. “Doubt it.” He hadn’t liked any of Seonghwa’s previous boyfriends, but then again, he didn’t like many people outside their coven. He didn’t even like their entire coven half the time.
“You will,” said Seonghwa. “Now I have to go. I’m counting on you to keep the house from burning down.”
Jongho smiled. “Okay. Have fun, hyung.”
He looked so genuine Seonghwa was seized with a burst of affection and rushed forward to hug him. Jongho whined and grumbled a little too loudly, but didn’t pull away. Seonghwa considered planting a kiss on his cheek, play the obnoxious hyung to the maximum, but took mercy and only ran a hand through his hair. Jongho was grinning as Seonghwa left the house.
It was a long drive to Hongjoong’s apartment, and when he arrived at their usual corner he was only a minute late. Hongjoong hadn’t shown up yet, which was unsurprising. He had no grasp on the concept of punctuality. Seonghwa took out his phone, ready to nag Hongjoong and maybe wheedle a favor out of him, when he saw someone approaching under the streetlights. His mouth fell open.
It was Hongjoong and his hair was snow white. He wore it down, falling over his forehead and into his eyes, shining bright like a halo and lending a glow to his already ethereal features. The white caught the light of the lamps above, making it look like he was wearing a crown of stars on his head. He looked like a fairy.
Seonghwa got out of the car, entranced. Hongjoong was smiling, glowing as bright as his hair, and when he walked up to Seonghwa he looked so beautiful it was almost blinding.
“What—when did you—?” Seonghwa couldn’t speak.
“What?” asked Hongjoong, huge grin on his face.
Seonghwa gestured vaguely at him.
“Yeah, thought I’d go for it,” said Hongjoong. He ran a hand through his hair. “You like it?”
He must’ve known Seonghwa liked it, judging by the excited smile he wore, but Seonghwa still said, with utter sincerity, “So, so much.”
Hongjoong smiled, lighting up from the inside. When he smiled at him like that, Seonghwa really felt like he was looking directly at the sunrise.
He stepped closer and without a second thought put his hands in Hongjoong’s hair. Hongjoong leaned into the touch. Seonghwa felt that same burst of happiness he felt every time Hongjoong was with him like this, relaxed and comfortable and wanting contact. He leaned forward and kissed Hongjoong. It was like kissing moonlight.
“Let’s go,” said Hongjoong. “Don’t wanna be late.”
“Let’s just not,” murmured Seonghwa. He wouldn’t mind sitting in the car with Hongjoong and kissing him all night.
Hongjoong laughed and shoved at him. “Not when I’m the one deciding where we’re going, Peach,” he said. “Come on.”
He’d started calling Seonghwa that since their date at the amusement park, and Seonghwa couldn’t deny it made him happy every time he heard it. He didn’t even grumble as he got back in the car. Hongjoong told him which way to go once they reached the end of the street, and then they were on a busy road, heading north.
They traveled in comfortable silence. Seonghwa was used to it, from the nights Hongjoong let him drive him home, when his shift ended too late and he’d just lean back in his seat and recharge. Sometimes Seonghwa would talk and joke, but most nights he’d let Hongjoong ride in silence and peace. Not only was Seonghwa glad to ease his burdens and spend time with him, but Hongjoong would always kiss him before he got out of the car at their corner, so it was more than worth it.
They drove through brightly illuminated streets, and Seonghwa saw now that Hongjoong’s hair was not pure white, but rather silver. It suited him, added another sort of mysterious beauty different from the fire red. Seonghwa wished now he’d taken more pictures of Hongjoong while he’d had the red hair. He wondered how long he’d have to admire the silver.
“I think I’m going to get another job,” said Hongjoong.
That caught Seonghwa off guard. “What? Why?”
“You know, build some savings,” said Hongjoong. “And I have some free time.”
“No you don’t,” said Seonghwa. “You’re always working.”
“Not always,” said Hongjoong, with a laugh.
“I don’t see why you have to work so much,” said Seonghwa.
He could feel Hongjoong’s eyes on him, but kept his own on the road. He knew he sounded like a petulant child, but he couldn’t help it. It was like Hongjoong was intentionally trying to make his own life harder.
“We have, like, zero savings,” said Hongjoong. His tone was lighthearted, almost joking. “The kitchen sink keeps making funky noises, and I don’t want it exploding on me. It’s a good idea to have some extra money lying around. You know, in case of an emergency.”
“You have me,” said Seonghwa without thinking.
A pause. “Seonghwa,” said Hongjoong quietly.
This was dangerous territory. Seonghwa tried to navigate as carefully as he could. “If you need anything, you can always ask me,” he said. “I’m here. I don’t mean just money, but if you need it, you can borrow from me.”
“Like you’d ever let me pay you back,” said Hongjoong.
He was right, but Seonghwa wouldn’t admit it. “You don’t need another job,” he insisted.
“I’m sorry, but that’s not your call,” said Hongjoong.
His mind was made up. Seonghwa drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, fighting the displeasure in his chest. He didn’t know why Hongjoong was so averse to the idea of Seonghwa helping him out, even just a little bit. It had taken so long to convince him to even let Seonghwa drop him home after work. Seonghwa wanted to make things easier for Hongjoong, he wasn’t a stranger and he cared about him so much, why couldn’t Hongjoong just accept?
“You’re upset,” said Hongjoong.
Seonghwa didn’t answer. He was.
“I’ll be okay,” said Hongjoong. He leaned over to put his hand on Seonghwa’s arm, which was unfair. He knew how weak Seonghwa was to his touch. “I’ve taken on a lot more before.”
“But you don’t need to,” said Seonghwa.
“Yeah, I know,” said Hongjoong. “But I’m dumb like that, you know? I wanna do it.”
Seonghwa glanced at him, at his grin and his new silver hair, and huffed a sigh. Hongjoong laughed and ruffled his hair fondly.
“Don’t do that,” grumbled Seonghwa. “You’re ruining my hair.”
“Not sorry,” said Hongjoong, sticking his tongue out. “I’m wearing the shoes I touched up last week, did you see?” He slid down his seat as far as he could to lift one leg. “Look.”
“Stop trying to get my attention,” said Seonghwa, batting at him with a hand. “I’ll crash the car and end up killing us both. They look amazing. I’ll take a better look after we get to wherever we’re going, okay?”
Hongjoong was satisfied with that, and sat back up in his seat.
Only recently had he started sharing his art with Seonghwa. Mostly clothing and accessories he had modified, though he did sometimes send pictures of pencil sketches on notepad pages. Seonghwa treasured them all. Not only were they beautiful, vibrant and full of life and uniquely Hongjoong, but it meant Hongjoong trusted him enough to share something he obviously treasured. His art was yet another part of Hongjoong Seonghwa admired beyond words.
“Hongjoong,” he said. “Would you paint something for me?”
Hongjoong started. “What?”
“If you’re comfortable with it,” said Seonghwa, risking a glance at his face. There was surprise there, and a touch of pink.
“I—sure, yeah,” said Hongjoong. “I mean—okay. What do you want?”
“You decide,” said Seonghwa. “And this isn’t a request. I want to commission you.”
The mood shift was immediate. “You cannot be fucking serious,” said Hongjoong.
“I am,” said Seonghwa. He glanced at him again. “So it’s a yes?”
“You can’t keep trying to get me to take your money,” said Hongjoong. “I’m not—I’m not a charity case.”
“Of course you’re not!” Seonghwa turned to face him. “How could you think I’d think that?”
“Then what are you trying to do?” asked Hongjoong.
“I just want you to paint something for me,” said Seonghwa. “And I know how busy you are so I’d feel bad knowing I was taking up your time for nothing.”
“Doing something for you isn’t for nothing,” said Hongjoong.
He said it so plainly, so directly, but his words hit something in Seonghwa’s chest, nearly overwhelming him. “Thank you,” he said. “But I mean it. Please, Hongjoong. For my own peace of mind.”
For a moment he thought Hongjoong might refuse. But then he sighed and said, “Only ’cause you asked.”
“Yes, thank you,” said Seonghwa, so happy he could’ve bounced in his seat. “You can paint whatever you want, as long as you think of me while you do it.”
“That shouldn’t be too hard,” said Hongjoong, lazy grin sneaking onto his face. “Peach.” Seonghwa smiled at that, and he thought he saw Hongjoong smile even wider.
Hongjoong navigated him through more intersections and turns, sometimes checking on his phone for directions. It was a part of the city Seonghwa didn’t remember having been to before. There were no commercial skyscrapers, but smaller one storey buildings, fewer chain stores with their glaring neon lighting and more family-owned businesses.
“Here,” said Hongjoong. “Pull over.”
It looked like a typical street lined with boring shops, but Seonghwa did as asked. As he undid his seatbelt he said, “You know, if there’s something wrong with your kitchen plumbing and you didn’t directly break it, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to fix it. It’s written in the property laws of Seoul.”
“What? How do you know that?” Hongjoong laughed. “You sound like a landlord.”
Seonghwa pursed his lips.
“Oh, god, yuck,” said Hongjoong, making a face. “You are a landlord.”
“You don’t have to sound so disgusted,” said Seonghwa. “Is it my fault I own things?”
“You’re a landlord, Seonghwa,” said Hongjoong, still with that fake outrage. “I had no idea I was dating a landlord! You should’ve told me before. Now I feel unclean.”
Seonghwa laughed, frowning too, and Hongjoong cackled in satisfaction before climbing out of the car.
They’d parked in front of a line of stores, nothing special. Hongjoong led them forward on foot, and then down a narrow path between two buildings. It opened into another street, and a few feet down it was a plot of land.
There was no building, only green. Seonghwa peered at it, at the lush plants at the front, the lines of hanging pots with creeper vines spilling over the top, the larger trees at the back. There was a small sign in front, lit with yellow.
“Ta-da,” said Hongjoong, spreading his arms out. “It’s a nursery.”
“It is,” said Seonghwa, surprised.
“You like plants and stuff, right?” said Hongjoong. “At first I thought we could go to a botanical garden or something, but they all close by sunset. So I found this place. It’s the biggest nursery that stays open at night. You can pick whatever you want, and I’ll buy it for you.” He beamed.
Seonghwa blinked at him. “I didn’t think you’d remember.”
“Ouch,” said Hongjoong, clutching his chest. “That’s mean. I do listen to what you say, you know.”
“No, I know, I’m just…” Seonghwa sought the words. “I didn’t know you’d do this. I don’t even remember telling you.”
“Yeah, well, I remembered, that’s what’s important,” said Hongjoong. “Come on.”
The inside was built like a garden, paved paths surrounded by plants in plain pots. The employee at the gate told them they were free to wander, and to holler or return to her if they found something they wanted to buy.
And so they wandered the greenery, just the two of them. Seonghwa was still stunned. It wasn’t that he’d thought Hongjoong thoughtless or inattentive, of course not, but he was still caught off guard. When had he even told Hongjoong about his gardening hobby?
He’d just turned a corner when, without warning, Hongjoong slid up beside him and wrapped an arm around his waist.
Seonghwa started, taken aback. He looked down at Hongjoong wide eyed.
“You don’t have to look so surprised,” said Hongjoong, grinning.
“I thought you didn’t like this sort of thing,” said Seonghwa.
“But you do,” said Hongjoong with a shrug. “And I don’t not like it…” His ears and cheeks were tipped with pink.
It was amazing how Hongjoong could make Seonghwa imagine warmth so vividly. He could almost feel it now, blooming inside, from his chest reaching down to the ends of his fingers. He put his arm around Hongjoong’s shoulders, pulling him in for a brief squeeze. Hongjoong fit against Seonghwa’s body perfectly.
They walked close beside each other, hands linked. Seonghwa could hardly believe it was real. He felt as though he was walking in a fantasy, among the vibrant green foliage and golden glow of the sodium bulbs, with Hongjoong by his side and fingers interlocked with his.
Hongjoong looked ethereal. Like living moonlight walking among the leaves. Like fae, or an elf, enchanting, dangerous in the way he drew Seonghwa in. He had Seonghwa utterly in his power. Seonghwa wondered if Hongjoong knew. He wondered if he wasn’t throwing himself in something too deep to climb back out of.
Hongjoong noticed Seonghwa’s eyes on him and turned to look at him, smile on his lips, eyes shining like starlight. “What?” he asked, glowing.
I love you. The words nearly slipped from Seonghwa’s tongue before he stopped them. He shook his head. “You look beautiful,” he said.
Hongjoong threw his head back and laughed, which is what he did when he was flustered by a compliment. “Thank you, Peach. You look good tonight too.”
Seonghwa smiled at him, trying to suppress the overwhelming feelings building inside him. He brushed through Hongjoong’s hair with his free hand, enjoying the softness against his fingertips, the way Hongjoong blinked and looked at him with a soft gaze. He leaned in and pressed a kiss to his lips.
“Thank you, Hongjoong,” said Seonghwa. He smiled. “Now let’s find the most expensive plant here and make you even more broke.”
Hongjoong laughed, brighter than the full moon. Seonghwa squeezed his hand and walked with him.