The harsh buzz of Hongjoong’s phone cut through his concentration. He groaned and reached over for it, ready to snipe at whoever it was that had bothered him, when he saw the number and stopped.
It was Seonghwa.
They hadn’t seen each other in almost a week, not since that night Seonghwa had shown up and Hongjoong had asked to meet Jongho. Things still felt off, not comfortable like they’d been before, and Hongjoong wouldn’t say they were back to how things were. But they were better. When Seonghwa texted, Hongjoong replied. Not as cutely or as freely as he used to, but he did. And Seonghwa didn’t send selfies or random pictures of things anymore, no pouting lips pointed at the camera, no regular updates on the dramas he was watching. His messages were stiff, formal almost. Careful.
Hongjoong hated it. He hated how they’d become, like they were strangers again. He didn’t want to be strangers with Seonghwa. The only reason he’d gone down that night to meet him was so that they wouldn’t be strangers.
It was weird, going back to how they’d been when they’d first met. But it was better than the days Hongjoong had avoided his phone, reluctant to face Seonghwa and at the same time sick he would get tired of him.
So now he picked up his phone, and opened the text.
you’re working at the delivery place tonight right?
His words looked so stiff. No cute emoticons, no sweet message before the question asking if Hongjoong was well. Hongjoong felt like Seonghwa’s coworker, not his—whatever he was.
can i drop you home tonight?
Hongjoong chewed his lower lip. He wasn’t totally surprised. Seonghwa had always taken him to and from the delivery center, because it was a little far from his apartment and Seonghwa always worried. It was normal he’d want to drop him home after. Normal.
His reply was weird and stiff too, but Hongjoong had already pressed send, there was nothing he could do. He thought of sending a couple of emojis, but before he could make up his mind he got a text back.
“Why are you thanking me?” Hongjoong murmured aloud. He sent it as a text too.
for giving me a chance to see you
and for giving me a chance in general
Hongjoong chewed his lip again, and then his fingernail.
As soon as he hit send he groaned. Of course? What kind of response was that? Stupid. So stupid. Another buzz interrupted Hongjoong’s mental screaming, and he grabbed his phone.
still i’m so happy
i promise i’ll make everything up to you
you won’t regret it
“I don’t,” murmured Hongjoong. Before he could write anything, Seonghwa texted again.
see you later tonight (❁´◡`❁)
Hongjoong stared at the cute emoticon until he could feel the smile on his face.
He glanced at the canvas he’d been working on before the interruption. He hadn’t done much, just added a few touches here and there, and decided it was enough for the night. He’d have to leave for work soon.
After he’d washed up and changed, Hongjoong went to the living room to hang out with Yunho and San a while. It was empty. But their bedroom door was closed, and Hongjoong thought he could hear laughter behind it.
They’d been doing that a lot recently. Sitting in their room instead of the living room, laughing about stuff they didn’t share with Hongjoong. The other day San had made some inside joke Hongjoong had never heard, and Yunho had laughed. If Hongjoong was any less mature he’d be upset they were leaving him out of things.
But he wasn’t immature. Hongjoong was a mature, understanding adult. Which is why he went over to San and Yunho’s room and opened the door without knocking.
They were sitting on Yunho’s bed, heads bent over something. They both looked up as soon as the door opened.
“Hyung,” said San. He had his phone in his hand, and that’s what they’d been looking at. “Do you need anything?”
That sounded like he wanted Hongjoong to leave. Unfortunately for him, Hongjoong was not so agreeable. “Just came to see what you guys were doing,” he said. He slipped into the room. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing,” said San. He caught Hongjoong’s eyes on his phone and said, “Just showing Yunho some pictures of Wooyoung.”
“Oh.” Hongjoong moved in closer. “Can I see?”
San and Yunho exchanged looks, and then San shrugged and said, “Sure.”
He unlocked his phone and swiped through until he found the one he was looking for. Hongjoong was aware of Yunho giving him a look as they waited, and ignored it.
Finally, San turned his phone to show Hongjoong. Hongjoong stared.
It was Wooyoung, but he looked different. His eyes looked different. They glowed, demonic, a molten gold shot through with spikes of white. Looking at them too long made Hongjoong’s eyes hurt, but he couldn’t look away. It was like watching an electrical fire.
“His eyes come out a little different in pictures,” said San, like he was talking about Wooyoung looking taller and not his eyes glowing like an infernal fire. He swiped, moving to the next picture, a more distant shot of Wooyoung posing in front of flowers. The eyes were less striking, but still there.
“Oh,” said Hongjoong. “That’s—okay.” He knew vampire eyes didn’t photograph right, which was why Seonghwa never sent any selfies with his eyes in the frame, but he didn’t know they looked like that.
“This is Woo in front of their house,” said San. He swiped again, glanced at the screen. “And him when he went out to buy shoes. And after he first dyed his hair, he’s with Yeosang, you wouldn’t know him—”
“I do,” said Hongjoong, though it was difficult to recognize him. In the picture Yeosang was smiling, and it softened his features, even with the yellow eyes. Completely different from what he’d looked like talking to Hongjoong.
San frowned. “You know him?”
Hongjoong scrambled for an answer. “Yeah, you talked about him before,” he said. “And Wooyoung mentioned him too, I think.”
“Oh, yeah,” said San. “I’m a little surprised you remember that.”
“Come on, I do listen to you when you talk,” said Hongjoong. “You talked about them a lot before. Wooyoung and Yeosang, and Mingi, Jongho, and—and Seonghwa.”
San nodded. He didn’t look suspicious, which was a relief. He could be relentless when he got suspicious.
Hongjoong decided not to push his luck. “I gotta get to work,” he said. “See you guys later.”
“So early?” asked Yunho.
“Yeah, I need to get the earlier bus,” said Hongjoong, already heading towards the door.
“Your boyfriend’s not gonna take you?” asked Yunho.
Hongjoong froze. He saw Yunho do the same, while San shoved and hissed at him to be more considerate.
“Not—not tonight,” said Hongjoong, and then he quickly left before San or Yunho could say anything.
The bus was on time, and he reached the center a few minutes early. Hongjoong kept himself busy with work, running deliveries, pretending like he wasn’t thinking of texting Seonghwa about the places he went like he used to. And it worked, everything was fine, until Hongjoong was putting his bike away after his final delivery and his phone buzzed with a message from Seonghwa, telling him he was outside and ready for him.
“Normal,” said Hongjoong to himself. “Everything’s normal.”
Except it wasn’t normal, seeing Seonghwa leaning against his car in front of the building, dressed in a pale pink sweater oversized even on his frame and with his hair resting in gentle curls on his forehead. He smiled when he saw Hongjoong, big and genuine, and Hongjoong could’ve melted away at the sight of him.
“Hi,” said Seonghwa, still smiling as Hongjoong approached. “Had a busy night?”
“Not too busy,” said Hongjoong. He hesitated. “You don’t have to do this, y’know…”
“You know I want to,” said Seonghwa. He opened the passenger side door for Hongjoong, and only went round to his side after Hongjoong climbed in.
It was weird, being back in Seonghwa’s car. The last time Hongjoong had been in here, Seonghwa had given him a set of silver earrings made especially for him.
“That’s for you,” said Seonghwa, motioning to a covered plastic cup sitting in the cupholder.
The cup was warm, and Hongjoong examined the brown drink inside before taking an experimental sip. “This is hot chocolate,” he said.
“Oh, good, then they gave me the right order,” said Seonghwa. He glanced at Hongjoong, smiling. “I had no way of checking.”
“I’m not a kid,” said Hongjoong, but he was smiling too. “I would’ve liked a coffee better.”
“Yeah, but I’m sure you’d like to sleep tonight, too,” said Seonghwa.
“Caffeine isn’t that strong, you know,” said Hongjoong. Not considering the tolerance he’d built to it, anyway.
“I don’t, actually,” said Seonghwa. “But when it comes to you and your refusal to take care of yourself, I’m not taking the risk, thanks.”
“I do take care of myself,” grumbled Hongjoong, and he saw the smile spread even more on Seonghwa’s face.
They traveled without conversation for some time, and it wasn’t as awkward as Hongjoong had thought it would be. He sipped his hot chocolate, listening to some acoustic love song play over the radio. It was very Seonghwa.
“I need to pick up some groceries,” said Hongjoong. “You can drop me off at that supermarket over there.”
“I actually have some things I need to buy too,” said Seonghwa. “So I can go in with you, and then drop you home after.” He glanced at Hongjoong. “If that’s okay.”
“Yeah, sure,” said Hongjoong, pretending like that careful glance didn’t bother him. “That’s cool.”
Seonghwa parked in front of the supermarket, a few feet from the entrance. Hongjoong sat still, waiting, and when Seonghwa noticed he stopped.
“Is everything okay?” he asked.
“Fine,” said Hongjoong. “Just… wondering if you need time to, like, do your makeup or anything.”
Seonghwa smiled at him. “I already did before I left the house,” he said. “Don’t worry, I won’t embarrass you again. Come on.”
He hadn’t embarrassed Hongjoong the time they’d gone to the mart together, but before Hongjoong could tell him that Seonghwa was already climbing out of the car. Hongjoong followed.
The inside of the supermarket was bright and clean and relatively empty of people. Hongjoong grabbed a cart and Seonghwa took a basket, which Hongjoong pulled out of his unprotesting grip.
“We can share,” he said.
They moved through the aisles, picking up things they needed. Hongjoong couldn’t deny it was nice being with Seonghwa like this, comfortable in a way, like they’d done this a thousand times before.
Like he’s your husband, some ridiculous part of Hongjoong’s brain supplied, and he panicked and tried so hard to get away from that thought he walked into the handle of the cart.
“Are you okay?” asked Seonghwa.
“Fine,” said Hongjoong, like he hadn’t just bruised his ribs because his own dumbass brain was thinking about being married to Seonghwa.
“That looked like it hurt,” said Seonghwa, concerned.
“I’m fine,” insisted Hongjoong, and Seonghwa let it go, though he still looked unconvinced.
“Which of these does San like?” he asked, holding two packets of cookies.
“That one,” said Hongjoong, and Seonghwa put the chosen brand into the cart. They kept on moving, towards the produce. “You’re shopping for San?”
“He’s the only one that eats in our house,” said Seonghwa.
“So no one else is dating or bringing over any humans,” said Hongjoong.
Seonghwa licked his lower lip, just for a flash. “No,” he said. He paused. “Well, I think Mingi is, but he can’t invite him over.”
“Why not?” Hongjoong picked out some tomatoes.
When Seonghwa answered, his voice was low. “He can’t be around humans, Hongjoong. You know that.”
Hongjoong stopped, feeling terrible. He did know that. Seonghwa had mentioned it before, that Mingi was like a newborn vampire, and it was obvious it was a sensitive subject. Hongjoong had asked the question like a bulldozer ripping through a rose garden.
“Sorry,” he said. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have—”
“It’s okay,” said Seonghwa. “It’s fine. Anyway, Mingi can’t really be around humans, so he can’t invite anyone over. And he has to stay upstairs while San is there.”
“Oh,” said Hongjoong. And then, because he felt like he should add something, “That sucks.”
“Yeah, it does,” muttered Seonghwa, looking at nothing.
He looked so… sad. Weighed down, burdened. Hongjoong remembered one night, so many nights ago, when Seonghwa had said his family deserved better than him and he wasn’t meant to take care of them. He thought he understood now. Seonghwa’s little family had money, but a whole lot of other problems too. Mingi. Jongho. And Yeosang, whose thinly veiled threat had sent a chill down Hongjoong’s spine.
“Hey,” said Hongjoong, maybe a little too brightly. “Which of these is better?”
Seonghwa started out of his thoughts to peer at him, brow furrowing. “Are you asking me to judge… cauliflower?”
“You know I don’t eat, right?” said Seonghwa, grinning in that unique way of his, like it was a grimace too.
“Yeah, but you have eyes,” said Hongjoong. He hefted the two stalks. “Which one?”
“Left,” said Seonghwa, and Hongjoong put it in the cart. “San doesn’t like cauliflower.”
“San doesn’t like anything, Peach,” said Hongjoong. “Doesn’t mean I’m gonna let him live off cereal and takeout.”
Seonghwa smiled at that, big and bright and gorgeous, and Hongjoong only realized why after they’d already started moving again. He’d called him Peach.
They passed by the freezer on the way to the checkout, and Hongjoong hesitated. He craved ice cream. But if he bought one now it meant he’d have to eat it without San and Yunho, and he wasn’t going to buy an entire tub—
“You’ll get a sore throat if you eat one now,” said Seonghwa, coming up behind him. And then he leaned down and opened the freezer. “What flavor?”
Hongjoong smiled. “Just vanilla is fine.”
There was no line at the checkout. Hongjoong watched, barely able to hide a grin as the guy at the counter openly gawked at Seonghwa in between scanning their groceries. Seonghwa didn’t even notice. He was used to it, probably.
He announced the total and Hongjoong was already reaching for his wallet when he stopped. “Wait, did you scan all of those together?”
“All the ones in the cart,” said the kid.
“We didn’t divide our stuff,” said Hongjoong to Seonghwa. Seonghwa blinked, obviously realizing just then.
“You guys aren’t together?” The cashier couldn’t keep the hopeful lilt out of his voice. “Do you want me to cancel and do all of them separately?”
Hongjoong looked at the kid, and then at everything all bagged up, and thought of his experiences with picky customers. “No, it’s fine.”
“Okay, then your total’s the same.”
Before Hongjoong could pay, Seonghwa already had his shiny black card out and was handing it over. He grumbled, and Seonghwa smiled innocently.
“Since I bought more than you,” he said. “You can pay me back later.”
“You know damn well you’d never let me,” said Hongjoong, but he wasn’t really mad, and Seonghwa could tell.
“Thank you,” said Seonghwa politely to the cashier, taking all the bags. “And also, yes, we are together.”
He walked off dramatically. Hongjoong laughed, smiled apologetically at the cashier, and then followed.
Seonghwa was waiting for him by the car, all the bags already stowed. He had Hongjoong’s ice cream, and handed it over as he arrived.
“What was that?” asked Hongjoong, laughing as he got in the car.
“I’m sorry,” said Seonghwa. “I know that was a bit too much.”
“I felt like I was in some drama,” said Hongjoong, still grinning as he scooped up some ice cream. “Why’d you get all huffy on him?”
Seonghwa glanced at Hongjoong as they backed out of the parking spot. “Okay, promise you won’t make fun of me.”
“I won’t make fun of you,” said Hongjoong, grinning.
He hesitated a bit more, and then gave in. “He was making eyes at you,” said Seonghwa.
Hongjoong blinked at him, and then burst into laughter.
“He was,” said Seonghwa indignantly. “It was pretty obvious, he didn’t even try to hide it, he—stop laughing at me!”
“Sorry,” said Hongjoong, and he did try to stop, very hard. “Sorry, I’m—I’m surprised. He was making eyes at me?”
“Yes,” said Seonghwa. He frowned, eyes on the road. “I’m sorry. It bothered me.”
Hongjoong didn’t bother trying to tell Seonghwa he wasn’t the one the cashier had been interested in. Instead he said, “It’s okay.”
“Thank you,” said Seonghwa. He gave a brief glance at Hongjoong. “For letting me drop you home too, and shopping with me and… basically letting me see you.”
Hongjoong curled back in his seat, embarrassed. “You don’t have to thank me,” he murmured. He hid his words behind more ice cream.
“I know I haven’t done enough to show you how sorry I am,” said Seonghwa. “I don’t really know what to do without making you uncomfortable. I’d stand outside your apartment with a dozen roses every night, but I get the feeling you wouldn’t want that.” He chuckled.
The thought made Hongjoong cringe. “I don’t think anyone would.”
Seonghwa opened his mouth, and then closed it soundlessly.
“You’re kidding,” said Hongjoong, straightening. “You’d want that?”
“No of course not,” said Seonghwa quickly. “But… but I did have an ex-boyfriend that asked me to do it.”
Hongjoong stared at him. “And you did?”
No answer, which was answer enough.
“You can’t be serious,” said Hongjoong in disbelief. “You did it for that loser—”
“Hey, you don’t know what he was like,” said Seonghwa with a pained-looking smile.
“If he made you stand outside his apartment every night he was a loser,” said Hongjoong. He punctuated the statement with another spoonful of ice cream. Seonghwa looked like he had something to say to that, but he kept quiet and just drove.
They were turning into the corner Hongjoong was usually dropped off at when Seonghwa asked, “How are San and Yunho?”
“Uh, good, I guess,” said Hongjoong, scraping up the last of the ice cream. “And, uh, everyone in your—coven?”
“As good as ever,” said Seonghwa. He glanced at Hongjoong. “I talked to Jongho again, and we both know he wronged you. I’m sorry I tried to shield him. And I shouldn’t have lied to you just because I didn’t want you to be angry at me. You have every right to be angry at me. I’m so sorry I did all this, you deserved better than that and—”
“Yeah, I know,” said Hongjoong, interrupting him. “You told me all this before, a lot of times. You don’t—you don’t need to get into it again.”
By now they had come all the way up to the apartment complex gate. “I don’t know how to make things okay,” said Seonghwa, as the car came to a stop. He looked at Hongjoong. “Everything I think of, I’m scared it will make you even more angry at me. Can you just tell me what I should do?”
The sincere, worried gaze he had on his face made Hongjoong feel things, most of them beyond his ability to name. He had to say something, he knew that, but it was always so hard to speak when Seonghwa looked at him like that. Like the entire world had stopped, and Hongjoong could make it start moving again with a word.
“You don’t need to…” Hongjoong stared out at the gate in front of them. “You don’t need to do anything special. Just—just this is okay. Okay?”
He turned back to Seonghwa and found him watching him. “Okay,” said Seonghwa.
They sat in the backseat and divided up the groceries, putting them in separate bags. Seonghwa worked methodically, and quick, until Hongjoong realized it was better if he just sat back and stayed out of the way. When they were all done, Seonghwa offered to carry Hongjoong’s bags to his apartment.
“It’s cool, I live just there,” said Hongjoong, taking them in hand. “So, uh, thanks. For driving me. And I’ll pay you back for the stuff.”
“No rush,” said Seonghwa. He had a small smile on his face, and it made him look so sweet and kind. “I’ll… see you later?”
Hongjoong nodded, and then turned and walked the rest of the way to his apartment building, fighting the urge to look over his shoulder and smile.
Seonghwa dropped Hongjoong home every night he worked, always ready with a hot drink. Sweet things, mostly, chocolate and strawberry and lattes with hardly any coffee in them. The awkwardness that lingered dissipated little by little, and soon Hongjoong was texting Seonghwa randomly like he used to, and Seonghwa replied with cute emoticons and pictures of random, pretty things.
But Seonghwa never touched Hongjoong. And Hongjoong never thought he’d be the one to miss it, he’d never been so into contact and touches like that, but it was so jarring to be around Seonghwa and not have him reach out to him. Seonghwa loved being physically close. He was holding himself at a distance.
One night, Seonghwa asked Hongjoong out on what was undoubtedly a date. “It’s a play,” he said. “One of my friends is in it and asked me to watch. I’d love it if you’d go with me.”
“Sure,” said Hongjoong without thinking, and the smile on Seonghwa’s face told him he’d made the right decision.
So on Sunday night Hongjoong got dressed up, not too fancy but fancy enough, and went downstairs to meet Seonghwa. As usual, Seonghwa was there and waiting for him. He also had a hot cup of something that smelled wonderfully of vanilla and cinnamon.
“Are you serious?” asked Hongjoong with a laugh, taking the cup. “We’re going to see a play.”
“You can finish it before we get there,” insisted Seonghwa.
He was right. The drive was a long one, and by the time Seonghwa pulled in to the theatre at the end of a long complaint about the latest plot twist in the drama he was watching, Hongjoong only had a few sips left.
The place wasn’t as fancy as Hongjoong had feared, and he didn’t feel too out of place. But it didn’t help when a breathtakingly beautiful woman came up to them in the main lobby, bedecked in bright clothing and heavy makeup, and took both of Seonghwa’s hands in hers.
“You came,” she said, smiling brightly. She looked at Hongjoong. “And you brought your boyfriend too! It’s so nice to meet you. I’m Park Kyungri, I’m a friend of Seonghwa’s.”
“Kim Hongjoong,” said Hongjoong, returning her smile. Her enthusiasm seemed genuine, and it eased his nerves.
“I’ll catch you guys after the show,” said Kyungri. “I need to head backstage right now. Let me know if you like it!”
“I’m sure we will,” said Seonghwa. “See you, noona.”
Kyungri smiled and nodded, and then left in a flurry of skirts.
There were a lot of people, and it seemed tickets had been sold out. Hongjoong and Seonghwa were in the third row from the front. Not soon after they’d taken their seats the lights dimmed, and the show started.
It was a good production. All the costumes were well made, the music and set design too. Kyungri played the lead role, a young woman trying to stand on her own feet as her family tried to sell her freedom to a cruel lord. She was a wonderful actress. Near the climax her character’s father fell ill, and she delivered a teary performance that almost had Hongjoong choking up too.
A light touch on his hand brought him back to reality. Hongjoong started and turned to find Seonghwa looking at him, equally surprised. He glanced down at his hand, still hovering over Hongjoong’s.
“Sorry,” he whispered hoarsely. “Sorry, I forgot, I… it won’t happen again.”
He went back to watching the stage, but Hongjoong couldn’t focus on it anymore. Seonghwa was wearing a ring on his left hand, right on his pinky, and a bracelet. It was hard to see in the low light, but they looked like dull gold or brass.
It was the bracelet Hongjoong had given him. He was wearing it, along with the ring he’d bought the first time they’d gone out together. Hongjoong looked up at his face, and Seonghwa was too absorbed in the play to notice. His eyes glimmered from the stage lights. Hongjoong stared at him, rapt, suddenly remembering the night he’d gone down to meet him, the way Seonghwa had blinked back tears then. Hongjoong had never seen him cry. He never wanted to.
Hongjoong put his hand over Seonghwa’s, fingers curling around his. He watched as Seonghwa turned to him, surprised. And then, slowly, he reached with his other hand for Seonghwa’s face.
Seonghwa closed his eyes and went with him willingly.
The kiss was soft, brief, sweet like the vanilla and cinnamon Hongjoong had had earlier that night. He pulled back to see Seonghwa smiling, eyes still glimmering like diamonds from the bright lights of the stage. And then Seonghwa leaned into Hongjoong and kissed him again.
Hongjoong watched the rest of the play with Seonghwa’s hand snugly around his, feeling more at ease than he had in a long time.