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Blood, Water

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Yeosang knew something was wrong the moment he sensed Wooyoung outside the gate.

It was too early. He’d gone out to be with San, and that always meant an absence of a few hours at the least. Yeosang didn’t know what they did together but they never seemed to tire of each other’s company, and Wooyoung would happily spend most of the night with San, and often did whenever he could. But it had hardly been an hour and Wooyoung was back at the house. 

And he was hurting. He was hurting so bad Yeosang could feel it even through their muted bond, tendrils of it sneaking past like wisps of smoke.

Yeosang went downstairs, feet moving of their own accord. He had just crossed the living room to the front door when it swung open, revealing Wooyoung standing in the doorway, chest heaving and eyes glimmering with a sheen of tears.

Before Yeosang could react, Wooyoung ran in and threw himself into his arms. 

Stunned, Yeosang stood frozen, a shaking Wooyoung pressed to his front. Slowly, so slowly, he wrapped his arms around him. 

He held Wooyoung like that for what felt like hours, saying nothing, only keeping him close. He felt Wooyoung shake as he cried, and Yeosang could do nothing but hold him through it, through his sobs and whimpers and the tears Yeosang slowly felt soak through his shirt. He could smell San on him. 

“He broke up with me.”

Yeosang’s fingers gripped Wooyoung’s jacket. 

“He—he said—” Wooyoung took a deep, shuddering breath, coughed out tears. “He didn’t want—now or later, he didn’t—he didn’t—”

He broke off into more tears. Yeosang ran his fingers through Wooyoung’s hair to soothe him, while in his chest something vicious and ugly reared its head. San had hurt Wooyoung. Wooyoung had put his heart in his hands and San had crushed it, he had hurt him—

Yeosang forced that monster down. His feelings weren’t important now. Wooyoung was in pain and he needed Yeosang, he needed Yeosang’s support, and Yeosang couldn’t forget that just because he was angry.

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly.

Wooyoung said nothing in response to that, but his grip around Yeosang tightened.

They stood like that a while longer, until Yeosang felt the shaking stop, and Wooyoung just leaned into his embrace, still. He wanted to ask for more details, but he didn’t dare, and some part of him was scared of what he’d hear. Yeosang didn’t know if his heart could bear hearing of Wooyoung begging San to stay. 

In the end, he didn’t have to ask. “He said he didn’t wanna turn,” said Wooyoung. His voice sounded hollow, empty. So unlike Wooyoung and his usual vitality.

“What?” Yeosang thought he hadn’t heard right. “He didn’t—what?”

“He doesn’t want to turn,” said Wooyoung. He pulled away, just far enough for Yeosang to see his tearstained face. “He doesn’t want to be a vampire.”

Yeosang was silent, thinking it over. “Did he say why?” he asked finally. The whole thing was unfathomable to him. San had been offered an eternity of Wooyoung’s love, and he’d refused. 

“He said he wanted to stay human,” said Wooyoung. “He was—he doesn’t like the idea of blood bonds. He doesn’t want to be bonded like that.”

Yeosang thought of Jongho and what he’d experienced, and thought he understood. His own maker had never compelled neither him nor Wooyoung to do anything, so it was easy for him to overlook the dangers, as serious as they might be. But that only applied to disturbing people like Jihyun, not Seonghwa. 

“Seonghwa-hyung would’ve been his maker, though,” said Yeosang. “He’d never compel or control or hurt him.”

“Not like that,” said Wooyoung. “I don’t know if he even meant it. He said I—I wasn’t being honest, that we—you and me—that it’s not just—”

He stopped, and without warning grabbed Yeosang in another tight hug, burrowing his face into his neck.

“Wooyoung?” Yeosang was thrown by the sudden action.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Wooyoung, voice muffled. “He was—he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Yeosang stayed silent. He didn’t know what San had said, and if Wooyoung wasn’t willing to tell him, he wouldn’t push. Instead he tightened his hold around Wooyoung, pulling their bodies flush against each other, and gave him whatever comfort he could.

“He’ll come back to me,” said Wooyoung, and Yeosang could feel the words vibrate against his skin. “We’re meant for each other.”

The words sunk deep in Yeosang’s skin, slipping into his veins. Even after being hurt so badly, Wooyoung wanted San. All he cared about was San.

But that was now. This would fade, the pain and the memories, and Wooyoung would forget all about the pretty human he thought was his one true love, while he lived out the rest of eternity with Yeosang. He had to. Yeosang had to believe that. 

“I love him.”

There was something painful in Yeosang’s throat, something sharp and pointed like a razor blade, and he swallowed it down. “I know,” he said.

“I don’t know how I’ll live without him,” mumbled Wooyoung. “I can’t.”

You can, with me. But Yeosang kept the words in his heart, and only went back stroking Wooyoung’s hair. 

 

✤✥✣✥✤

 

The room was well lit—lamps on tables, small chandelier of red glass hanging from the ceiling. The décor was understated, neat in an almost bland way, with no distinct style or theme, no eye-catching pieces. It felt like a bland office. It was meant to serve that purpose, but it was difficult to see it as one, knowing who sat behind that desk.

“It’ll be six years in February,” said Sanghyuk.

“I know,” said Seonghwa.

The ancient vampire shook his head. “We can’t supply blood like this until the end of time,” he said. 

“I know,” said Seonghwa. He knew he was repeating himself, but there was nothing else to say.

He knew. He knew the club owners didn’t pay humans for the bottled blood—all they got came from volunteers. He knew the bottled blood was supposed to be a temporary thing, provided for no more than half a year to keep newborn vampires from causing chaos. He knew fewer and fewer humans were willing to have their blood drained into bottles and supply was already running low.

Seonghwa knew. But what was he supposed to do? He needed those bottles. Mingi needed them.

Standing before him, leaning against the dark wood desk, Sanghyuk sighed. The dark-haired vampire was the youngest in the coven that had established itself as the ruling power among vampires, but much older than Seonghwa still, and carried a kind of restrained strength that was terrifying in its potential. Still, Seonghwa was glad that it was Sanghyuk he had found in the backroom office at the club that night. The older vampire was not unkind, and more approachable than most of the others. 

“I know you’re in a tough spot,” said Sanghyuk. “He doesn’t show any signs of improving?”

“No,” said Seonghwa. He hesitated. “I don’t know. Mingi hasn’t been around humans recently.”

“Maybe you can try getting him reintroduced into society,” suggested Sanghyuk. “Not many are willing to fill the bottles, but there are more and more humans looking for a bite every night.”

“I can’t,” said Seonghwa. “What if he hurts someone?”

“Baby steps, Seonghwa-ssi,” said Sanghyuk. “He has to start somewhere.”

Seonghwa said nothing in response to that. Sanghyuk made it sound so easy, but he didn’t understand. Mingi was a kind, gentle person. He would never be able to bear it if he hurt someone. Neither would Seonghwa, if he was being honest. 

“Have you thought of getting a feeder?”

The words snapped Seonghwa out of his thoughts. “A feeder?”

“A human to fill bottles, if you don’t trust him to feed normally,” said Sanghyuk. “We don’t provide them, of course—Hakyeon-hyung finds it distasteful—but if you have a human friend willing to help…”  

Someone willing to siphon the blood out of their body and into a bottle for Mingi to drink from. Seonghwa did have a few human friends, some of whom even knew what he was, but he couldn’t imagine asking them for something like this. 

He wondered, just for an instant, how Hongjoong would react, and then immediately forced the thought from his mind. 

“I know you’re worried, and I understand,” said Sanghyuk. “It’s good you’re careful. I wish more vampires were as careful as you, honestly. But you can’t close your eyes and hope everything stays like this forever. Things will have to change.”

His words remained with Seonghwa even after he’d left the club, snaking around in his ribcage. Change. He’d never been wary of it before, but it loomed before him now like a monster on the horizon. Seonghwa didn’t want any more change. Why couldn’t things have stayed as they were, just a week ago? 

Seonghwa’s phone started ringing as he climbed into his car. He knew who it was without checking, but he still slid it out of his pocket and looked at the screen.

Hongjoong. Seonghwa thought about it, chewing his lower lip, until he finally decided to give in and picked up. 

“Shit,” said Hongjoong as soon as Seonghwa held the phone up to his ear. “Shit, you actually picked up. Okay.”

Seonghwa didn’t say anything in reply. He had been avoiding most of Hongjoong’s calls over the last few days. It was always a repeat of the previous conversation, Hongjoong apologizing and admitting he’d made mistakes and promising to make things up to Seonghwa, and yet Seonghwa still couldn’t handle it any better than he did the first time. He didn’t want to get emotional over a phone call. 

“Seonghwa,” said Hongjoong, once he’d finally gotten over the surprise of Seonghwa picking up. “I’m really sorry. Can you please not ignore me anymore?”

“What are you saying sorry for?” asked Seonghwa. Childish, maybe, but he couldn’t help it.

“Everything,” said Hongjoong without hesitation. “For not wanting San and Yunho to know about us. For not even asking you how you felt about it, fuck, I’m so sorry. For not trying to get to know Jongho, for not trusting Mingi—”

Seonghwa swallowed but said nothing. 

“I’m really sorry,” said Hongjoong. “I’ve been so selfish and I don’t really know how to make it up to you but I have to try. So can you please not do this?”

For some time Seonghwa was silent, and Hongjoong did not interrupt. He just let Seonghwa turn his words over in his head. The apology was nice. Seonghwa appreciated hearing the words, but more than that he appreciated hearing Hongjoong’s voice as he said them, hearing the sincerity and near desperation. Hongjoong did love Seonghwa. He didn’t want to lose him. 

And Seonghwa didn’t want to lose Hongjoong either. Not now, or ever. 

“Hongjoong,” he said quietly.

“Peach?”

Seonghwa’s heart pounded at the nickname. Hongjoong always said it so sweetly. “Hongjoong,” he said again. He couldn’t keep putting it off. “Do you think San did the right thing?”

He heard Hongjoong groan in frustration. It always came back to this. “It doesn’t matter what I think,” said Hongjoong. “That’s them, we’re us. I’m not—I won’t break up with you over this.”

“But you think San made the right choice,” said Seonghwa. “You think he was right to leave Wooyoung over it, even though he never wanted San to turn any time soon.”

“That was San’s decision,” said Hongjoong. A pause. “But, yeah, I think it was brave of him to break things off early, since he knew neither of them would change their minds.”

“You don’t know that,” said Seonghwa. Just say it. Tell me. “You don’t know San wouldn’t change his mind, that—”

He stopped, took a moment to collect himself. He couldn’t get emotional again. He didn’t want Hongjoong to hear him cry. 

“Seonghwa, come on,” said Hongjoong, voice quiet. “Why do we keep circling back to this? We’re not them. I’m not going to leave you.”

But he wouldn’t say it. He wouldn’t tell Seonghwa what he needed to hear. 

“I miss you.”

Warmth flooded Seonghwa’s heart. Hongjoong hardly ever said things like this. It was such a far cry from the Hongjoong he’d first met so many months ago, the redheaded fae that shut everything up inside him like every little show of emotion was too precious to let go. That Hongjoong had been so weighed down, so closed off. 

And now Hongjoong told Seonghwa that he missed him.

“This is so dumb, because I saw you literally last week, but I can’t stop myself,” said Hongjoong with what sounded like an amused if bitter laugh. “I got too used to having you around.”

Seonghwa looked down at his lap, chewing his lip. He was weak when it came to Hongjoong, he always would be. “You’re home, right?” he asked. “I can come to the front gate. We can talk in person.”

“Right now?” An edge touched Hongjoong’s voice. “I can’t.”

“Why?” Seonghwa frowned. “What are you doing?”

“Nothing, I just can’t meet you tonight,” said Hongjoong. “What about on Tuesday?”

“Are you serious?” asked Seonghwa in disbelief. “What are you doing that’s so important? You can’t even see me now?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t,” said Hongjoong. “I do want to see you. It’s just… I can’t explain it. Can we please meet on Tuesday, or after?”

“No,” said Seonghwa. He was upset again, the warm feeling of being told he was missed quickly disappearing. “No, we can’t. If you really missed me you wouldn’t be rescheduling me like a doctor’s appointment.” 

“It’s complicated—”

“No, it’s not,” said Seonghwa. He just needed Hongjoong to say a few simple words, but he wouldn’t, he refused to, and Seonghwa didn’t want to hear anymore. “Don’t call me for the rest of the night. I don’t want to talk to you.”

“Don’t hang up,” said Hongjoong quickly. “I’m sorry, I swear, can we just talk about what you really want to talk about? Just—talk to me, Peach.”

Seonghwa bit his lower lip. “Bye, Hongjoong.”

He didn’t end the call, not immediately. He waited a few seconds, to see if Hongjoong would finally say what Seonghwa needed him to, but he didn’t. He didn’t say anything at all. Seonghwa ended the call, cutting off the silence.

And then he sat in his parked car, staring at his fists balled up in his lap. That hadn’t gone how he’d hoped. Hongjoong had apologized, but he’d apologized enough times already, and the truth was Seonghwa didn’t care so much about that. He just needed Hongjoong to tell him everything would be okay, that they would be together. 

Seonghwa needed Hongjoong to tell him he would turn.

He didn’t need Hongjoong to turn now. He wanted Hongjoong to enjoy his life as a human, enjoy all the things Seonghwa had missed and couldn’t enjoy. But he needed that promise. He needed to know Hongjoong was open to turning, even if it was decades in the future. That he wasn’t like San. 

Seonghwa knew he was being a coward not asking Hongjoong directly, but he was scared. He was scared of what Hongjoong’s answer might be. 

Things were changing, and Seonghwa couldn’t bear it. Not without Hongjoong. 

The mood in the house was subdued when Seonghwa returned. Jongho sat on one of the couches, so absorbed in watching something on his phone he barely raised his head in greeting as Seonghwa entered the living room. Yeosang sat on the long sofa opposite.

“Hyung,” he said. “Everything okay?”

“Fine,” lied Seonghwa. He saw Yeosang’s brow furrow, and spoke before the pretty vampire could call him out on the pathetic lie, saying, “Where’s Wooyoung?”

“On the phone,” said Yeosang. His face was perfectly blank as he spoke, but Seonghwa could guess his feelings.

Since the breakup Wooyoung had been calling San relentlessly, desperately trying to get him to give them another chance. If Wooyoung was awake, he was calling San, or texting him, or asking Mingi to ask Yunho to find out how he was. Seonghwa didn’t know how well his efforts would work. If Yunho knew how San viewed getting back together he hadn’t told Mingi, or he had and Mingi hid it from Seonghwa and the others. Of course, Seonghwa couldn’t ask Hongjoong. 

“Do you think it’ll work?” asked Seonghwa. “Do you think San will take him back?”

“I don’t know,” murmured Yeosang, eyes fixed on the stairs. 

“I hope he doesn’t.”

Seonghwa turned to Jongho, shocked. “You can’t mean that,” he said. “They love each other.” 

“For now,” said Jongho. No emotion showed on his face. “Things change.”

“Some love doesn’t go away,” said Seonghwa. 

Jongho shook his head. “It’s better if they don’t get back together,” he said.

“Why?” Seonghwa didn’t understand. Jongho liked San, and he loved Wooyoung, he would want him to be happy. 

But Jongho just shrugged and went back to his phone.

“Jongho—” started Seonghwa, but stopped as he noticed Yeosang suddenly sit up straight. 

Seconds later Wooyoung barreled down the stairs. 

He was bursting with excitement, eyes lit up, hair a mess from where he’d probably run his fingers through it a hundred times. “He said he’d meet me,” he said, tone high with euphoria. “He said we can meet later in the week, he said we can talk and—and—” He broke off, too excited to even speak. 

“San did?” asked Seonghwa eagerly. When Wooyoung nodded, he smiled wide and said, “Oh, Wooyoung, I’m so glad. I’m sure it’ll work out.”

He reached out for Wooyoung, and took him into a hug. Wooyoung squeezed back tight. “I hope so too,” he said. He let go of Seonghwa and immediately turned to Yeosang, bouncing with happiness. “Yeosangie, San said he wants to meet me, he wants to talk.”

Yeosang did not mirror his enthusiasm. “I’m sorry, Woo, but you shouldn’t get your hopes up too high,” he said. “He might not—agree to restart your relationship.”

“What?” cried Wooyoung. “How could you say that?”

“Did he say he wanted to get back together?” asked Yeosang.

Wooyoung’s excitement dimmed. “No. He just said he wanted to talk.”

“Which is why you shouldn’t get too ahead of yourself,” said Yeosang. He sighed. “I just don’t want you to get hurt again.”

“I can’t get any more hurt than this,” said Wooyoung.

Yeosang had nothing to say that, turning his face away. 

“Things will be okay,” said Seonghwa, wrapping an am around Wooyoung once more. “San obviously loves you. He’s probably reconsidering. But I think Yeosang’s right too, you shouldn’t get too ahead of yourself.”

“Yeah, thanks, hyung,” said Wooyoung. He hugged Seonghwa back briefly, and then went to Yeosang, slotting in against his side. 

Seonghwa watched them a moment. He was glad that whatever crack that had set between them before had been overcome. Seonghwa gave Wooyoung as much support as he could, but it was obvious the only reason Wooyoung was getting through his painful time was Yeosang. He relied on him more than anyone and anything. A touch of envy settled in Seonghwa’s chest. That had been him and Taehee, before her death. 

On instinct he looked at Jongho. Jongho watched Wooyoung and Yeosang with a strange fascination, different from the usual longing Seonghwa often caught in his gaze. He pursed his lips, and then went back to his phone like nothing had happened.

“Jongho,” said Seonghwa. “Would you mind coming with me a moment? I want to talk to you.”

Obediently Jongho put aside his phone and followed Seonghwa to the foot of the staircase. He looked at Seonghwa with eyes of innocent curiosity, so pure and open, and Seonghwa felt his heart flood with love. Things might change but he could still take care of this boy. 

“Hey,” he said gently. “Is everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine,” said Jongho, surprised by the question. “Why do you ask?”

“No reason,” said Seonghwa. “Just… you’ve been quiet recently. I don’t see you around much.”

“I don’t leave the house,” said Jongho.

Regret struck Seonghwa. “I’m sorry, I know I’ve been busy,” he said. “It’s just things have been happening, with Hongjoong and—”

“I know,” said Jongho. “You don’t have to apologize to me, hyung. I’m not upset.”

But it felt like Jongho was. If not about Seonghwa’s absence then about something else, or a combination of it all, and Seonghwa didn’t know how to fix it. “Hey,” he said softly. “You know I love you.”

“Yuck,” said Jongho, laughing and making a face. “Don’t get icky on me.”

“I’m serious,” said Seonghwa, and he really was. “You know what I said, about how some love doesn’t go away? It’s not only romantic love. That’s you and me, Jongho. And everyone else in the coven too.”

Jongho said nothing. The smile had disappeared from his face, replaced with a blank expression Seonghwa couldn’t read. Seonghwa attempted an encouraging smile and a nod. 

“If there’s anything bothering you, you can always talk to me,” he said.

Jongho was silent a while longer, apparently thinking Seonghwa’s words over. Then he said, “Thank you, hyung. That means a lot.”

“And I mean it,” said Seonghwa. “Anything at all.”

“Okay,” said Jongho. “Can I go back now? I was kind of in the middle of a program.”

“Yeah, sure,” said Seonghwa. He propped up another smile, and Jongho returned it before heading back to the living room, where Wooyoung poked at Yeosang and talked loudly about some other friend of his, any traces of displeasure forgotten. 

Seonghwa went upstairs, feeling rather unsettled. Things were happening in his house that were not only out of his control but out of his knowledge. He didn’t want Jongho to creep back into his shell, close himself off, and he’d thought they were past that. But every night felt like another step backwards, another slow change Seonghwa couldn’t stop.

Before heading to his room, he knocked on the door to Mingi and Wooyoung’s. He heard the sound of movement inside, and then the door opened to reveal Mingi holding his phone, earphones plugged in. “Oh, hyung, hey,” he said, smile on his face. “What’s up?”

“Nothing, just wanted to see how you were doing,” said Seonghwa. “How are you doing?”

“Great,” said Mingi. “I’m on a video call with Yunho. Wanna talk to him?”

Seonghwa blinked in surprise at the unexpected offer, and then relaxed and smiled. “I’d love to,” he said.

Yunho greeted Seonghwa with a warm smile and a polite nod of the head. Seonghwa laughed his formal introduction off.

“I’m not that old,” he said, grinning.

“If you say so,” said Yunho, with a quick glance at Mingi who was snorting. “Hey, I wanted to say sorry again.”

“For what?” asked Seonghwa.

“The attacking you in our kitchen thing,” said Yunho. “I had no idea you were Hongjoong-hyung’s… person. I’m sorry for threatening to hit you with a potted plant, sincerely.”

“Oh, that’s nothing, I’m not upset at all,” said Seonghwa, waving the apology away. He grinned. “It was pretty cool of you to defend your house like that. Mingi probably would’ve screamed his head off and run away.”

“Shut up,” hissed Mingi, and he looked so pissed Seonghwa only laughed more.

“That’s cool,” said Yunho with an easy smile. “He has someone to protect him anyway.” 

He looked at Mingi, eyes warm with fondness, and Mingi laughed in delight. Seonghwa, forgotten, watched them. Yunho looked at Mingi like he was a star walking the Earth. Seonghwa had never seen Mingi look so full of life. He’d always been a positive person, but he was glowing now with Yunho talking to him, features coming alive with happiness and content. He really did look like a star on Earth.

“I have something I need to check on,” said Seonghwa. “It was nice talking to you again, Yunho. Catch you later, Mingi.”

“Oh, yeah, sure,” said Mingi, barely paying attention. Yunho bowed in farewell, and Seonghwa chuckled and nodded his head in return before leaving the room.

Outside in the hallway, everything was quiet. Seonghwa could just make out Wooyoung’s loud voice from downstairs, but even that sounded muted, forced. No matter how Wooyoung might deny it, he wasn’t so certain San would take him back. 

Seonghwa prayed he did. He hoped for it more than almost anything. For Wooyoung’s sake, and San’s. For his own. If San came around, then maybe Hongjoong… 

He shook his head, trying to throw the thought aside. It was like he’d told Wooyoung. He couldn’t get ahead of himself. Even if Hongjoong did call Seonghwa and ask him to go see him, even if he threw himself into Seonghwa’s arms and held him tight and told him he loved him and he wanted to turn and be with him forever, it wouldn’t fix everything. 

But it would help. 

Things were changing. Seonghwa could feel it happen, even if he couldn’t see exactly what shifted in the shadows out of his sight. Maybe things would surprise him and change for the better. 

 

✤✥✣✥✤

 

“I need your help.”

Jongho pulled one earbud out. “Hmm?”

“I need your help,” said Mingi again. “Please.”

He looked serious. More serious than Jongho had ever seen him, brow furrowed, features painted with distress. Slowly Jongho locked his phone and put it away. “What’s up?” he asked.

Mingi chewed his bottom lip, and then sat down on the bed opposite Jongho. “You can’t tell Seonghwa-hyung,” he said. 

Unease fluttered in Jongho’s gut. “Why?” he asked, but he had a feeling he already knew.

Mingi didn’t answer. He just ruffled his hair, mussing it up vigorously until it was a mess of brown on his head. His teeth sunk into his bottom lip until Jongho was sure it would bleed.

And then, finally, Mingi swallowed and said, “I’m going to meet Yunho.”

There it was. Jongho said nothing, let the silence sink in until Mingi was squirming. When it had gone on long enough, he asked, “And why do you need me?”

“There’s no risk,” said Mingi quickly, too quick. “There’s no chance I’ll hurt him, I know I won’t, it’s perfectly safe. I would never do anything that would put Yunho in danger. I would never agree to this if I wasn’t totally sure he’d be okay.” He squirmed. “But… just in case…”

“You want me to hold you back,” said Jongho.

“Just in case,” said Mingi, seemingly relieved he hadn’t had to say it himself. “Just in case, y’know, just as a failsafe—”

“If you’re not sure you shouldn’t meet him,” said Jongho.

“I am,” said Mingi at once. “I am, totally, sure.”

But Jongho wasn’t convinced. “You shouldn’t have him be the first human you try being around in six years,” he said. Mingi should try another human first, someone more expendable. If Yunho got hurt both Mingi and Seonghwa would be upset.

“No, it has to be him,” said Mingi. “It won’t work if it’s not him.”

“Love is not a real thing,” said Jongho.

The look Mingi gave him rattled Jongho to the core. Confused, and pitying, hurt, like Jongho had personally attacked him with his words. 

Jongho moved to explain himself. “I mean, your love for him isn’t going to give him magical protection or make you suddenly normal,” he said. “It’s not like a magic cure or spell.”

“Oh,” said Mingi, relief flooding in. “No, I don’t think it’s because I—because of that. It’s Yunho’s scent. I’m—I’m used to it.”

This was something new. “What do you mean, used to it?” asked Jongho. 

“It’s hard to explain,” said Mingi. He shifted on the bed, brought his legs up to cross them under him. “A couple of weeks ago Yunho started sending me stuff. His stuff. Like his sweaters and clothes and things.”

“Please don’t tell me about your lovey dovey couple shit,” said Jongho, cracking a smile. “I really don’t wanna hear about your lovey dovey couple shit.”

“No, this is important,” said Mingi. “He sent me all this stuff that was, like, drowning in his scent. And it smelled really good, y’know, so good it almost drove me crazy—”

Jongho fought a cringe. He really was not joking when he said he did not want to hear it.

“But then it got better,” said Mingi, eyes wide and serious. “It was weird, but it got better. Like I could still tell how good it smelled but it—it didn’t make me hungry. That craving got easier. It started fading the more time I spent around his scent, until it just… it’s not like thirst anymore. It’s just… I smell it. That’s it.”

Jongho looked into Mingi’s gaze, uncertain how to feel. “You’re saying you got used to the scent of him?” he asked. “You accustomed yourself to his scent over weeks?”

Mingi nodded.

“I didn’t know you could do that,” said Jongho. He still didn’t know if Mingi had. Maybe he was just deceiving himself. 

“I didn’t know either,” said Mingi. “I never really tried before. I wasn’t trying with Yunho. It just… happened.”

“And you think it’s good enough for you to see Yunho in person?” asked Jongho. 

“I wouldn’t have agreed if I didn’t,” said Mingi.

Jongho fell silent, turning this information over in his mind. It didn’t seem unlikely. He’d learned of all sorts of experiments conducted on animals and humans alike, how gradual change could get organisms accustomed to the most extreme things. People had built tolerance to lethal poison by ingesting small amounts at a time over a long period. But could it work with bloodthirst? 

Jongho didn’t know. He didn’t want to take the risk. If something went wrong, Mingi would be devastated, and Seonghwa would be mad at Jongho. He didn’t want that.

But Mingi was staring at him with an intent, determined gaze, eyes warm and sincere. He was counting on Jongho. He’d sought out Jongho for help. Jongho was cold and broken and had been thrown away by his maker, but Mingi needed him.

“When?” 

Mingi blinked, confused. “When what?”

“When are you meeting him?” asked Jongho. “When do you need me?”

It took a moment. The understanding slowly spread on Mingi’s features, taking up every inch of them before it was just as quickly swallowed up by happiness. “You mean it?” he asked, voice hushed under the weight of his emotions. “You’ll help me out?”

Jongho nodded.

Mingi dove forward and pulled him into a hug.

Jongho stilled, not knowing how to react. Mingi didn’t often show affection like this. Thankfully it didn’t last more than a few seconds, and Mingi was soon pulling away, looking sheepish but still aglow with joy.

“Sorry,” he said, though he didn’t look very sorry. “Sorry, I got carried away. Just—thank you. It makes me feel so much better knowing you’ll be there. Thank you, Jongho.”

“It’s nothing,” said Jongho, but that was a lie. It felt like a lot to him. 

“Okay, we’re meeting here Wednesday night,” said Mingi. “San is gonna go out to meet Wooyoung then, and Yunho doesn’t wanna tell him what we’re doing. San’s like a bloodhound, he’ll definitely get it out of Yunho if he’s home.”

“So Wooyoung-hyung will be out of the house,” said Jongho. “And Seonghwa-hyung and Yeosang-hyung? I’m guessing you don’t want them knowing either.”

“Definitely not,” said Mingi, nodding with a serious expression. He looked like a big kid, and Jongho almost felt something like fondness for him. “Yeosang will probably get out of the house, he likes taking those long walks. Even if he doesn’t, he probably won’t hear anything, he shuts himself up in his room watching videos all night. Seonghwa-hyung will go out like he always does.”

“He’s fighting with Hongjoong,” said Jongho. “He might not.” It felt a little strange, knowing that and knowing that it was not his fault, like he had learned the wrong thing. 

“For now,” said Mingi dismissively. “Yunho told me, Hongjoong’s super desperate to fix things. They’ll make up before then, or hyung will go see him then to make up.”

He sounded confident. Jongho guessed he had reason to be. After all, Seonghwa and Hongjoong had no reason to fall apart. Seonghwa was warm and bursting with love, enough love to spill over onto even Jongho. Hongjoong was just the right amount of broken to draw him. Cracked gemstones were always the most special. 

“Then it’ll be just us,” said Mingi. He leaned forward, eyes focused on Jongho. “You can do it, right? You can help me and Yunho?”

He looked so sincere, so desperate. Jongho was broken in all the ways Mingi was not, and yet now Mingi turned to him, he needed him to evolve and patch his cracks over. Mingi was evolving. He was leaving Jongho behind him, he was adapting and would survive when the system died and Jongho’s peace died with it. He would live and thrive while Jongho would sit in the ruins of his life scattered around him like wreckage. Because Jongho was broken, and Mingi was repairing himself. 

And yet. And yet Jongho could not imagine refusing.

He smiled, and nodded.